UPDATED 2:08 p.m.: The jury handed down a sentence of 12 years in prison and a $5,000 fine. Because Castro has been incarcerated in Hays Co. since Sept. 4, 2009, he may be in jail for about nine more years in a state prison out-of-county. He will be eligible for parole in about three years.
by SEAN BATURA
Frank Castro, a 20-year-old survivor from a group of armed Luling teens who invaded a San Marcos home in 2009, took the stand today in his criminal trial. Jurors may issue a sentence sometime today.
Castro, whose trial began earlier this week in District Judge Bill Henry’s court, pleaded guilty to aggravated robbery. The offense is punishable by five to 99 years or life in prison and a fine of no more than $10,000. Castro asks for probation, while prosecutors want him to stay behind bars. He has been at the Hays County jail ever since the botched robbery that left two teens dead and one seriously injured.
On Sept. 4, 2009, then-17-year-old Castro entered the home at 926 Chestnut Street with 16-year-olds John Alvarez III, Jordan Mendez, and Rudy Tinoco. Tinoco was armed with a 9 mm Ruger handgun and the others had pellet guns. Alvarez and Tinoco were killed by gunfire from a .40-caliber Glock pistol wielded by Mark Smith, who resided in the home with his brother, Brian Smith. Mark Smith is immune from criminal and civil liability under the Texas Castle Law passed by legislators in 2007.
The Luling teens had intended to steal marijuana, according to Castro. Large amounts of marijuana were not found in the Chestnut Street home, though police located a “personal stash” in a bathroom. The marijuana could not be immediately tied to a specific individual due to the location from which it was confiscated. The five residents of the single-family home moved away soon after the incident.
During Castro’s trial on Thursday, prosecutors called four employees of the Sheriff’s Office to the stand and asked them to describe their experiences with Castro at the Hays County jail. Each of them described instances when Castro reportedly was verbally abusive, disruptive, combative, and defiant.
Officers testified that on Dec. 6, 2011, Castro was tased for wielding a mattress in a defensive posture as they attempted to place him in a restraining chair. They said Castro had provoked their response by pounding on a segregation cell door and being verbally disruptive. Castro had been forcibly placed in the segregation cell after he attempted to prevent officers from separating another inmate from the general population for safety reasons, according to testimony. A corrections officer testified that Castro had been drunk on “hooch,” which is an alcoholic beverage sometimes made by prison inmates.
“While we were restraining him, Mr. Castro was cursing and yelling and threatening us,” said Hays County corrections officer Austin Pancamo during his testimony. “His exact words were, ‘I’m a mother-fucking murderer, and Satan’s going to have his day.’ So I placed that in my report.”
Defense attorney Lynn Peach asked Pancamo whether he had ever seen Castro behave badly before or after Dec. 6.
“No ma’am, never had any negative contact with him other than that one night,” Pancamo said.
Moses and Irene Gonzales of Luling testified that Castro was a well-behaved youth who since his kindergarten year often stayed at their home and joined them at church. The couple said Castro can meet probation requirements and they would help him.
Castro’s wife, Stacey Castro, who met and married him while he was in jail, said she would help him meet probation requirements and that her step-father would give him a job as a mechanic. Castro said she intends to use her pharmacy technician certification to acquire a job in that field if her husband is released so they can start a life together. She currently works 35 hours a week at a gas station.
Kim Huebner, Castro’s special education teacher who testified on Thursday, said she watched Castro grow up, spent hours with him every school day for years, and never felt threatened or disrespected. She said he suffers from a learning disability and his participation in the robbery was an anomaly of his character. She said he can fulfill probation requirements.
A prosecutor asked Huebner whether Castro’s success at probation would depend on him being surrounded by good influences. Huebner said that would not be necessary.
“I think success is internal,” Huebner said. A prosecutor asked Huebner whether Castro’s family would be a good influence on him during probation. She responded affirmatively.
Castro’s mother, Diana Castro, testified Thursday that she would help her son meet probation requirements.
“I know what he did was wrong and we’re sorry,” Castro’s mother told the court.
Upon questioning by the prosecution, Castro’s mother, who is in a wheelchair, said she is unemployed and disabled. Asked where her five children’s father is, she said she doesn’t know. She said all of her three sons have served jail time or have been on probation.
Frank Castro left his home after 11 p.m. to commit the robbery, according to testimony. Asked whether she knew Frank had left their home the night of the robbery, Castro’s mother said she did not, though she heard a door slam late that night. A prosecutor asked her if she knew where Frank was at the time of the robbery.
“No,” Castro’s mother replied.
Frank Castro, who took the stand Friday, expressed regret for the robbery and asked for probation.
Peach asked Castro what he wants from the jury.
“Mercy, forgiveness,” Castro replied. “A second chance to make up for this…disaster that happened. Nobody deserves it.”
Judge Bill Henry presided over the trial and prosecutors included assistant criminal district attorneys Fred Weber and David Levingston.Email | Print