A Dec. 5 court hearing was set this morning for Braulio M. Castillo’s motion seeking to overturn a verdict that could send him to prison for life in the murder of his estranged wife.
Following a five-week trial in Loudoun County Circuit Court, Castillo was convicted in June of first-degree murder in the death of Michelle Castillo in her Ashburn home.
He was scheduled to be sentenced last week, but his attorneys filed an 87-page motion seeking to set aside the jury’s verdict. Among their claims is that the circumstantial evidence in the case was insufficient for a guilty verdict and that county prosecutors improperly swayed the jury by casting prejudicial aspersions on Castillo’s lawyers and making unsupported statements during closing arguments.
“The purpose of this motion is not to ‘retry’ the case, but rather to make clear the need for this Court to review the verdict in light of the clear lack of evidence and impossible and unsupported theories put forward by the Commonwealth,” the motion reads. “The verdict could not have been based on a factual bedrock leading to a conclusion of proof beyond a reasonable doubt.”
During the trial, prosecutors claimed that Castillo jogged from his nearby home to his wife’s house, snuck inside and then strangled her in her bedroom, while their children were asleep in the home. He then took her body to a basement bathroom and made it appear that she hanged herself in the shower. The couple was in the final stages of getting a divorce. Castillo’s attorneys argued that there was no conclusive evidence that he was in the home that night or that Michelle Castillo had not committed suicide.
The motion cites one of Loudoun’s most infamous murder cases. In 1985, William “Bull” Evans-Smith was charged with strangling his wife of 43-years with pantyhose. In what was also a circumstantial evidence case, Evans-Smith was tried, convicted of the murder and sentenced to 20 years in prison. The case was overturned on appeal based on a finding that inadmissible hearsay testimony was allowed. He was tried and convicted again. That verdict was voided by a federal appeals court that ruled there was insufficient evidence to sustain a conviction.
While Evans-Smith was quickly identified as the suspect in Barbara Evans-Smith’s death, the defendant claimed investigators ignored a suspicious van he reported seeing on the road near their home on the day of her killing.
Castillo’s attorneys claim prosecutors in this case similarly linked pieces of circumstantial evidence together in a way that supported their theory, but failed to exclude other possibilities.
“Just as in Evans-Smith, the Commonwealth in the case began with the conclusion that Mr. Castillo, as the soon to be ex-husband of Ms. Castillo, must have been the perpetrator,” the motion stated.
Judge Stephen E. Sincavage has scheduled a two-hour hearing on the defense motion Dec. 5. If he denies the motion, Castillo is expected to face final sentencing on Dec. 9. Under Virginia law, Sincavage is permitted to reduce the jury’s recommended sentence of life in prison.