By Pariss Briggs
Prosecutors in the first-degree murder trial of Braulio M. Castillo stressed during cross-examination this week that the Ashburn man had motive to kill his estranged wife.
The Castillos’ divorce agreement stated that, should anything happen to either of them, custody of the children and $6.5 million in assets goes to the surviving spouse.
“Castillo gets to keep it all,” Chief Deputy Commonwealth Attorney Nicole Wittman said in court Wednesday.
Braulio Castillo is accused of killing his estranged wife, Michelle, on March 19, 2014. Michelle’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 while their children slept in rooms down the hall and then staged a scene to make it appear she hanged herself in a basement bathroom.
In court this week, the defense has argued that Michelle took her own life.
Defense witness clinical psychologist Michael Hendricks told the jury Thursday that life stresses, such as the death of a spouse or an unsettled divorce can cause a person to become suicidal. The Castillos were separated and undergoing a divorce at the time of Michelle’s death.
Defense attorneys challenged the prosecution’s argument that Michelle was happy and would not take her own life. “[The prosecution thinks] she had everything to live for and nothing to die for,” Defense Attorney Peter Greenspun said.
But Hendricks says the mood a person is in before they attempt to take their own life is a “remarkably unreliable predictor” because suicide can alleviate the burden of struggles.
The defense continued digging at the prosecution’s theories with Hendricks’ testimony, saying future plans and the presence of others—even their own children—in the home do not always deter people from killing themselves.
Testimony by psychotherapist and clinical social worker Mary Spooner countered key testimony from prosecution witness, Zachary Castillo, the youngest of the Castillos’ five children.
Spooner said during a session in February, “He blurted out that he didn’t see his father on the night of his mom’s death. I found it unusual that he blurted out what he blurted out. He didn’t usually talk about those things.”
Zachary said in court May 27 that he did see his father in the house that night.
The defense also called Sean Kelly, Castillo’s former divorce attorney, who said there was hardly any contention between the Castillos. They both agreed to divide their assets equally.
“[The level of contention] wasn’t that high because we were focusing on negotiation,” Kelly said. “From the beginning, the stage was set.”
The jury trial was scheduled to wrap up today, but is now expected to stretch into next week.
See related articles: “Castillo Trial Hones in on Phone Records”
“Castillo Defense Witness Supports Suicide Scenario”