May is Jury Appreciation Month, and this week scores of Loudoun residents are getting an up close look at that part of the justice system.
As many as 300 potential jurors were on notice Monday and Tuesday that they could be called to serve on the trial of Braulio M. Castillo, who is charged with first-degree murder in the March 19, 2014, death of his estranged wife, Michelle.
The trial is scheduled to last 18 days.
On Monday, groups of jurors were called into the courtroom in groups of 10 to be questioned by Circuit Court Judge Stephen E. Sincavage, Chief Deputy Commonwealth’s Attorney Nicole Wittman and Castillo’s attorneys. Questions centered on whether they could devote their time and attention to the trial, and whether they knew about the case and had formed opinions on the defendant’s guilt or innocence. As jurors with conflicts were excused from service, another group was brought in for review.
Before the trial gets underway, the lawyers will select 12 jurors and four alternates to hear testimony over the next three weeks.
In addition to murder, the Ashburn businessman is charged with breaking and entering with the intent to commit murder and with violation of a protective order.
The case began when Michelle Castillo’s body was found hanging in a basement bathroom in her Belmont Station home. Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office investigators say Castillo entered her home, killed Michelle during a struggle in her bedroom and then staged a scene to make it appear she committed suicide.
The prosecution’s case is built on circumstantial evidence and key questions facing the jury are whether they believe there was evidence that she was killed in the bedroom and her body later moved, and whether the man seen running in grainy surveillance video footage taken from a neighborhood home at the time of the crime is Braulio Castillo.
If convicted on the murder charge, Castillo faces a sentence of 20 years to life in prison.