It was a wild scene at the Maricopa County Superior Court building today as Judge Glenn Davis ordered that Armando Castillo be released on bond while awaiting re-trial in a 13-year old shaken-baby case.
Prosecutors agreed to a new trial for Castillo last week. You can see our report here.
Judge Davis opened the proceedings this morning by declaring that he was inclined to order the release of Armando Castillo on bond but was willing to listen to any argument against.
Prosecutors began their presentation by calling Steve Young Sr., father of victim Steve Young Jr., to address the court.
Tall and thin, wearing a sports coat with blue jeans and a deeply-etched scowl, he expressed astonishment that the court had failed to contact him before last week's hearing. Young lamented having to read the news in "a blog," presumably New Times.
Prosecutors later clarified that the mix-up was due to Young not having signed up to receive appellate updates at the end of the first trial.
Young declined to criticize the court's decision but let loose on Castillo, who, he said, "is Hispanic, speaks Spanish, and has friends and family in Mexico." If he were in the same situation, Young said, there would be "no Earthly way he would show up for trial."
His voice rising, Young said he foresaw two possibilities if Castillo were released on bond. "In the event that he is not killed outright by angry family members, he will go to Mexico."
Young ended his speech by imploring the judge to rely on his years of wisdom and deny bond. Several deputies entered the room after he spoke and took positions around the room, something defense attorneys speculated caused by Young's passive threat.
Clara Yates, mother of Steve Young Jr., was more subdued in her anguish. She said that she thought of her son every day, and that his death had prevented her from experiencing various milestones of motherhood.
"No kindergarten. No 8th grade graduation. No high school football, his favorite activity. No report cards." Instead, she says, she gets "letters from the district attorney about the murderer's status."
In receiving a new trial, she said Castillo continues to destroy her life. Yates told the assembled that she suffers severe depression and is uanable to work or function normally.
"He has smiled in our faces and refused to take responsibility for what he did," she added, asking that he remain in prison. Castillo has been adamant in insisting he is innocent.
Prosecutor Frankie Grimsman argued that Castillo's bond should be $160,000, the same as the original figure. Grisman said she was "horrified by the pre-sentencing report" that recommended a low-bond and supervised release.
She said Castillo could not be counted on not to flee and that the people who would bond him out could not vouch for him. Disparaging Castillo's wife, Sheri, as "the woman who writes as his wife," Grimsman noted that she had "married him in prison and cannot take responsibility for him" because they had never lived together.
Larry Hammond from the Arizona Justice Project countered by suggesting that Pre-Trial Services interviewed Yates and took her concerns under advisement.
"This gentleman, Mr. Castillo, has not only been granted a new trial but one based on post-conviction relief that would probably lead to his innocence. This man knows now he will have a new trial afforded to him with a new trier of fact. That is not the same position as 13 years ago."
Grimsman rose to make it clear that the state did not agree to a new trial based on "new evidence" - she made air-quotes with her fingers - but based on the argument that Castillo had received ineffective counsel in his first trial.
Defense attorney Steve Leschner stood up and asserted that the state did not mention why they were agreeing to a new trial last week, and that he would not allow them to "re-write history."
Grimsman angrily fired back that they always made it clear in conversation with the defense that it was over ineffective counsel. "The defense does not have the right to stipulate reasons" for the state, she fumed.
In making his order, Judge Davis addressed the elephant in the room: scientific evidence. He says that he hoped the state had filled the family of Steve Young Jr. in on the "real and genuine question here and understand that according to what has been presented there is a real possibility that an innocent person has been sitting in prison all these years.
"I would want the truth to come out if I were a parent," he added, causing Yates to visibly shake her head. Grimsman said that she had filled the family in on the state's side of the case.
In their petition for post-conviction relief last week the Arizona Justice Project argued that scientific evidence shows that Young Jr. did not die of injuries suffered on the day before his death but were older and might have been caused by the father.
Ruling that Castillo is an unlikely flight-risk because he is in a situation where he might be acquitted, which is more appealing than a lifetime as a fugitive, he ordered him released on 50K bond and ankle-monitoring.
The case is set for a status hearing before a different Judge, Judge Kristin Hoffman, at 9 a.m. on March 18th. Yates said "thank God" when she heard that a new judge would be hearing the case.
Neither Yates nor Young were willing to speak with New Times after the hearing. Sheri Castillo said her husband barely speaks Spanish and has no family in Mexico.
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