Loudoun County Circuit Court Judge Stephen E. Sincavage today sentenced Braulio M. Castillo to serve the rest of his life in prison for the murder of his estranged wife, Michelle.
The ruling comes 33 months after her children awoke to find their mother was missing from their Ashburn home. Hours later, her body was found hanging from an extension cord in the shower of a basement bathroom.
During a five-week trial that ended in June, a Loudoun jury concluded that Castillo broke into the home and strangled his wife while their kids were asleep and then staged her death to appear like a suicide.
The hearing concluded a roller coaster week for the families and the large contingent of Michelle Castillo’s friends and supporters who filled the courtroom each time the case was heard. On Monday, Castillo’s attorneys pushed to overturn the conviction. They waited until Thursday to hear Sincavage deny those motions.
Friday afternoon’s sentencing hearing focused on the aftermath of that March 20, 2014, morning, specifically the impact on the family’s children who lost their mother and father—and on providing a sense of closure.
The couple’s oldest children, Nicholas and Victoria, took the stand to discuss the impact of their mother’s death. Also testifying were Stephanie and David Meeker, the close Castillo family friends who took in the Castillo’s four minor children immediately after the murder.
“She was my mom. She knew me better than I know myself,” Nicholas Castillo told the judge.
“Part of my life has been taken and I can’t really put it back in,” he said.
“I still wake up in the morning and think that I want my mommy to be here,” Victoria said. “She’s still with us in our hearts. She is not going to leave us. She is encouraging us every day.”
Stephanie Meeker read a letter written by their younger brother, Jonathan, to their father. “When I look back, you were planning this all along,” he wrote. “If you loved us you would do the right thing, but I know you won’t.”
She also talked about the children’s continuing grief and anger, and their fear of losing memories of their mother. “They lost everything that day,” she said.
Castillo’s sister also took the stand to urge Sincavage to take into account his high character, work as a Christian mentor, and his contributions as a successful business man.
Chief Deputy Commonwealth’s Attorney Nicole Wittmann urged the judge to uphold the jury’s recommended sentence. She said the children should not have to worry about a future date on the calendar when their father could be released from prison. “Let them move forward with peace and certainty,” she said.
Castillo’s attorney Peter D. Greenspun pressed for a prison term in line with Virginia’s sentencing guidelines—a sentence that would offer the 50-year-old Castillo hope of being free one day, maybe not until his 70s, and to provide his children with the opportunity to have relationships with him if they someday chose to.
The sentencing guidelines, Wittmann said, failed to account for the violence involved with Michelle’s death. She pointed to staged suicide, calling it a “horrific scene—like something out of a horror movie … He left her there for [the kids] to find.”
Sincavage agreed. He upheld the jury sentences—life for murder, 15 years for breaking and entering with intent to murder, and 12 months in jail for violation of a protective order. He also ordered the sentences be served consecutively rather than concurrently.
While the hearing offered closure to many in the courtroom—the ruling was welcomed by hugs among those in the gallery and the prosecutors, Castillo’s attorneys are expected to appeal the convictions. They have 30 days to file a petition with the Virginia Court of Appeals.