State Won't Seek Death in Shovel Murder Case
A teenager accused of killing a man with a shovel won't face the death penalty, and his bond has been reduced so he will be free on house arrest until his trial.
Assistant District Attorney Warren McSweeney said in court Tuesday morning that the state will not seek the death penalty in the first-degree murder trial of Carlos Castillo.
Southern Pines police arrested Castillo, 18, in the early hours on Saturday, June 27. They charged him with murder after he allegedly killed Wilbalbo Balbuena, 31, by striking him in the head with a shovel. The incident took place during a gathering at a trailer park at 1225 Central Drive.
Castillo doesn't speak English well enough to participate without an interpreter, so the state provided a court-certified interpreter to help him both in court and in dealing with court-appointed attorney Arthur Donadio.
As required, Senior Resident Superior Court Judge James M. Webb conducted a Rule 24 hearing in Moore County Superior Court. Such a procedure is required whenever a death penalty is involved. The grand jury had indicted Castillo on the murder charge.
"The state will not seek the death penalty," McSweeney said. "We are proceeding on the charge of first-degree murder."
Donadio said the defense would accept the state's decision not to proceed with a capital case, but that he did want to be heard on a bond motion.
"Has a bond been set?" Webb asked.
Judge Skipper Creed had set Castillo's bond at $100,000 secured, he was told. Donadio then told Webb that he wanted to make an oral motion for bond modification. He told Webb that Castillo is a U.S. citizen who was born in New Jersey.
The interpreter had helped uncover new evidence from Spanish-speaking witnesses, according to the defense.
"Since Judge Creed set that bond, some new facts have come to light," Donadio said. "We know now -- through the work of my investigator Harold Hunley -- that we have identified a man who had been cut by Mr. Balbuena, which lends support to my client's defense that he was defending himself and his brother.
"We also have evidence that after the incident, Mr. Balbuena went back to his trailer and refused efforts to secure medical attention and he expired. I use term 'expired' because I have recently seen a copy of the medical examiner's report.
"There were no gross abnormalities on his head. It was just 'he was hit with a shovel, so that must be what killed him.' There is no evidence of premeditation or malice in this case. I propose $25,000 secured, with house arrest."
Webb wanted to know if Castillo had the means to obtain such a bond.
"He has an auto," Donadio said. "He has some property with which he could make a bond. He just doesn't have $100,000. Your Honor, he will live in Southern Pines."
If released on bond, Castillo will not live in that trailer park anymore, Webb was assured. The family has moved to Southern Pines, and he will be living with his parents.
Castillo's mother, Minerva Martinez, his father, Lucio Gaspar Mendel, and Jorge, one of his three brothers, were in the courtroom.
He would live with his family somewhere away from that location, Donadio told Webb.
McSweeney argued that the bond should not be reduced. Balbuena died in the process of being taken to a hospital. Witnesses were interviewed at the scene, and the defendant gave a statement to officers at about 4:30 that Saturday morning, according to McSweeney. He read from Castillo's statement.
He had come home that Friday following an after-work volleyball game with a friend, according to his statement.
"It was dark outside," Castillo said in the statement read by McSweeney. "Jorge was my little brother. I was drinking Bud Light. Willie (the name Castillo knew the victim by) said he did not like Bud Light, so he went into the trailer three or four times. I asked Willie for a beer, and he said four dollars."
An altercation arose between Balbuena and Castillo's brother.
"I pushed Willie away from Jorge, and I heard the click of a knife," Castillo said in the statement. "I saw a knife in Willie's left hand. I got afraid, so I picked up a shovel from the bed of a black truck and hit Willie one time. He got up, came back, and said, 'Bitch! I will kill you and your whole family!' I did not know Willie was hurt, did not see Willie bleeding."
Castillo said he didn't know if the knife he had seen was in Balbuena's hand when he hit him with the shovel. Balbuena went to his trailer, and Castillo went home, according to what he told police that night.
"I don't know if the knife was in his hand when I hit him," he said in the statement. "I went to my house and was woke by the police. I hit him, because he said he would kill me and my family. I hit him. After I hit him he said it again. My brother Jorge never grabbed him or hit him. I hit him once. I care that he died, but he made me mad."
According to McSweeney, the medical report does show the victim had a .19 blood alcohol level.
"It does state blunt trauma to head, death probably being from stretching and probably tearing of brain structures," McSweeney said. "That was some time after the assault. He did go into his residence. He was 32 years old."
Webb went further than Donadio's request for a $25,000. From the bench, Webb set a lower bond, $20,000, secured. He placed Castillo on house arrest once he posts bond. He is not to consume or possess alcohol or any controlled substance without a lawful prescription and is to have no contact directly or indirectly with the Balbuena family.
Castillo's parents and his brother smiled as they left court.
"We are very grateful to the judge," Jorge Castillo said. "He gave us an even lower bond than the lawyer asked him for."
Contact John Chappell at (910) 783-5841 or by e-mail at email@example.com.
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