Death Watch: What Evidence?
Juan Castillo set for execution on May 16
Juan Castillo goes to the gurney on Wednesday, May 16 – or at least that's when he is scheduled. Castillo, 37, is now on his fourth death warrant, after the first (last May) got pushed back for a technicality, the second got postponed because of Hurricane Harvey, and the third (last December) got called off due to claims of false testimony. The San Antonio man was sentenced to death in 2003 for the capital murder of Tommy Garcia Jr., whom Castillo, his girlfriend, and an accomplice (Francisco Gonzales) were found to have conspired to rob. But that conviction was secured in part by the testimony of Castillo's Bexar County Jail bunkmate Gerardo Gutierrez, who said Castillo confessed to the crime during his time awaiting trial. Gutierrez recanted that testimony a decade later; in 2003 he signed an affidavit alleging to have lied about the confession, an important development, since no physical evidence tied Castillo to the crime. (The state has long argued that Castillo and Gonzales wore knit ski masks during the course of the robbery gone wrong, but forensic testing only revealed DNA evidence on one mask; it was found to contain Gonzales' DNA. The second mask did not reveal usable DNA at the time of Castillo's trial.) The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals stayed Castillo's execution last November so that the trial court could parse out what substantiated evidence exists to hold Castillo. Bexar's 186th District Court heard the case early last December, recommended to deny relief, in a hearing Castillo's attorney Gregory Zlotnick argues never meaningfully vetted the evidence that did exist. Castillo filed a petition for writ of certiorari with the U.S. Supreme Court in March, to no avail. He currently has a clemency petition before the state's Board of Pardons and Paroles, which he hopes will recommend Gov. Greg Abbott commute his sentence to life without parole. Castillo would be the sixth Texan executed in 2018.