Tears flowed freely in room 2A at the Loudoun County courthouse this week as two tragic cases reached their legal conclusions.
At one point on Monday, murder defendants Anthony R. Roberts and Braulio M. Castillo were in the same courtroom, sitting only feet apart. Hours later, both learned they would spend the remainder of their lives behind bars.
While they’ll share a common future, they arrived there by far different paths.
Roberts was a 20-year-old running with a group of gang members on an out-of-control crime spree when he decided to pull over and attack two innocent victims walking along a suburban subdivision street.
Castillo was a 43-year-old multimillionaire businessman once taken to task in a Congressional hearing for allegations he was gaming a federal procurement system aimed to help wounded vets. He was in the final stages of divorce and under a protective order to stay away from his wife.
Both were represented by teams of capable attorneys.
Roberts was defended by court-appointed lawyers who specialize in capital murder cases. They said early in their appearances on Roberts’ behalf that their chief goal was to prevent the state from taking his life. They would allow no hurdle to be overrun in their demand for due process as the commonwealth pursued the ultimate punishment. Making the case for a death penalty sentence would take at least another year and consultant and research costs that could exceed seven figures.
Castillo was represented by a regional dream team—defense lawyers recognized to be among the best in the business. During a month of testimony and cross examinations, their goal was to instill a reasonable doubt in the mind of at least one juror.
Roberts’ case ends with his plea agreement; Castillo’s team has appeal options remaining.
For now, justice was served. But as Commonwealth’s Attorney Jim Plowman pointed out in court, it can be a hollow justice. No court verdict will bring back Bill Bennet or heal the wounds carried by Cynthia Bennet. Nor will it bring back the mother of Nicholas, Zachary, Benjamin, Jonathan, and Tori.
It does provide the opportunity for the families—and the community—to find closure and to turn their attention to the steps that can be taken to protect others. What can we do to curb gang-related violence and protect a family like the Bennets; and what can we do to curb domestic violence and prevent the death of another Michelle? The perpetrators are behind bars, but there is more work to be done.