By Pariss Briggs
“Did you murder Michelle Castillo, the mother of your children?” defense attorney Peter Greenspun asked.
“No, I did not,” Braulio M. Castillo said from the witness stand Monday, as his first-degree murder trial entered its fifth week. He made direct eye contact with each juror as he answered the question.
Castillo is accused of killing his estranged wife on March 19, 2014. Prosecutors Nicole Wittmann and Alejandra Rueda worked during the trial’s first four weeks to build their case that he killed her in the master bedroom of her Ashburn home and then moved her body to a basement bathroom to make it look like a hanging suicide. Michelle’s body was discovered the following day.
Greenspun and attorney Jonathan Shapiro spent five days attempting to whittle away at that theory, through the questioning of a roster of their own witnesses that included their client, who faces 20 years to life in prison if convicted.
The defense rested today. The case is expected to go to the jury by week’s end.
Castillo took the stand in hopes that jurors would believe his side of the story, but it also gave prosecutors an opportunity to question him directly.
The Castillos were finalizing their divorce at the time of Michelle’s death. Wittmann, the chief deputy commonwealth’s attorney, emphasized during questioning today that with the death of his spouse, Castillo would not have to share his $6.5 million assets or custody of their children.
“You don’t have to share anything, right? The hard part is over. You get to keep it all to yourself,” she pressed him during cross-examination.
“Yes,” Castillo said.
Wittmann also argued, that given the circumstances, Castillo knew he would no longer have to negotiate decisions with Michelle. “You would have the children exclusively because their mother is dead,” she said.
“I was not going to have to ask Michelle anymore,” Castillo said.
Castillo denied going anywhere near the Belmont Station home on March 19, 2014, and testified that he learned Michelle was missing from one of his sons. “Jonathan told me he didn’t know where mommy was,” he said.
That is when Castillo says he broke the protective order and entered Michelle’s house. He told the jury he began to search the home, including the basement. But he said he did not check the bathroom.
“I wasn’t looking for a kid; I was looking for Chelli,” Castillo said. “I checked the places I thought she’d be.”
The day after Michelle’s death, Detective Mark McCaffrey noted injuries on Castillo’s face, including a black eye. Evidenced in the case showed Castillo searched the internet for black eye remedies on the day of Michelle’s death.
Castillo told the jury the black eye came from his son, Zachary, during their scheduled visitation.
“Zacky got upset, threw a flashlight, and hit me in the face,” Castillo said. That is when he says he began searching remedies—hours before the time prosecutors said Castillo attacked his wife.
“I wasn’t pre-googling something at 5 o’clock in anticipation [of a potential alibi],” he told the jury.
Another key piece of evidence in the commonwealth’s case is video footage from a neighbor’s security camera, showing a man running away from Michelle’s home on the night of her death. Castillo denied it was him, and said he knew the neighbors had cameras installed.
Castillo also presented a possible alibi. He told the jury he had gone to his friend Bill Byer’s house in Reston on the night of Michelle’s death to fix their drains. Byers also testified, saying he was in Australia at the time and unable to confirm when or whether Castillo was at his house. But Castillo said he had access to the house.
There are no records that Castillo was at the Reston home. He said he did not use toll roads, and he can’t remember whether he brought his cell phone.
Both sides have called a number of experts to testify on their behalf, as well as family members, friends and neighbors of the Castillos.
The trial began on May 17. It was originally scheduled to end June 10.
See related articles:
“Prosecutors: Castillos Motive was $6.5M”
“Castillo Trial Hones in on Phone Records”
“Castillo Defense Witness Supports Suicide Scenario”
“Castillo Case: Maid’s Testimony Supports Defense’s Suicide Theory”