Castillo Attorneys Argue to Overturn Murder Conviction

A Loudoun County Circuit Court judge will rule Thursday on motions seeking to overturn the murder conviction against Braulio M. Castillo, who faces life in prison for killing his estranged wife.

During six hours of post-trial arguments today, defense attorney Peter D. Greenspun put the spotlight on the conduct of county prosecutors and the lead investigator.

Key claims include that Chief Deputy Commonwealth’s Attorney Nicole Wittmann made improper statements during her closing arguments in the case and that prosecutors failed to disclose concerns that Mark McCaffrey, the former Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office detective who led the Castillo investigation, may have filed a false report in an unrelated fatal overdose case.

Following a five-week trial ending in June, the jury recommended Castillo be sentenced to life in prison for killing his wife, Michelle Castillo, in her Ashburn home. 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.

Final sentencing by Judge Stephen E. Sincavage was scheduled in October, but Castillo’s attorneys filed an 87-page motion seeking to set aside the verdict. Among the claims was that the circumstantial evidence in the case was insufficient for a guilty verdict and that Wittmann improperly swayed the jury by casting prejudicial aspersions on Castillo’s lawyers and making unsupported statements during closing arguments.

Greenspun focused on Wittmann’s narrative of the killing, which included Castillo hiding in a ditch outside the home until the lights went out, taking a key from the garage to enter the house, trying to suffocate Michelle in her bedroom while their youngest son was asleep on the bed, turning on the shower to cover the noise, and stopping her from reaching a shotgun locked in the closet before strangling her.

‘They are powerful arguments if they are based on facts but they are not based in facts,” he said. “They are based on the imagination of counsel.”

The motion also criticizes comments Wittmann made to the jury about Castillo’s defense team and the use of expert witnesses hired to testify in the case, comments Greenspun said undermined Castillo’s right to put on a defense and prejudiced the jury.

Greenspun characterized her comments as saying “we’re the pimps who hire the whores to provide false evidence to the jury.”

“The commonwealth didn’t care what they said as long as they got a conviction,” he said. “There is no way this conviction should stand under these circumstances.”

Wittmann refuted the claims, but also argued that it was too late for those objections to be considered. She cited Virginia case law that requires the objections to be made immediately so the judge can address them and instruct the jury when comments should be disregarded.

Today’s hearing also dealt with a second motion to overturn the conviction that was filed last month.

After the trial, Castillo’s attorneys learned of a controversy involving McCaffrey. In a fatal overdose case, the detective wrote in a report that Deputy Commonwealth’s Attorney Alex Rueda, who also prosecuted the Castillo case with Wittmann, had declined to bring criminal charges against the suspected drug supplier. Rueda later did bring felony drug charges, but after a plea agreement had been entered in which the suspect could not be charged beyond the DWI offense for which he was originally arrested. Rueda made note on McCaffrey’s report that his statement that she did not support charges was “misleading” and during the court case she disputed McCaffrey’s account. Ultimately, the case was dropped.

As late as last week, prosecutors were working to clear up the discrepancy, issuing a letter stating that McCaffrey stood by his report that the issue was discussed, but Rueda stating she did not recollect the meeting.

Greenspun said the concern about McCaffrey’s report should have been shared with the defense team under standard pre-trial discovery disclosures. Early in the case, the attorneys held a special motion session to determine whether the jury would be told that McCaffrey was not re-sworn by Sheriff Michael Chapman following his re-election in 2015. That put the Castillo case’s lead investigator out of a job.

McCaffrey, who had not supported Chapman’s re-election bid, then was hired by the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office and prosecutors argued that it would be prejudicial for jurors to be led to believe he had been fired from the Sheriff’s Office. They provided the defense with personal records that showed McCaffrey had not been subject to internal investigations or discipline and a statement from Chapman that his release was not performance-related. At that time, the defense attorneys agreed not to raise McCaffrey’s job status before the jury.

That position would have been different if they had known McCaffrey may have filed a false report as part of another death investigation, Greenspun said. The detective was involved in almost every aspect of the case, and the attorney said, questions about his credibility should have been known to jurors.

“Without a credible Mark McCaffrey there is no case,” he said.

Wittmann characterized the disputed report as more of a misunderstanding than a falsification. McCaffrey and Rueda simply had differing recollections of the information, she said, adding that the circumstances did not amount to anything requiring disclosure to the defense.

In this second motion, Greenspun asked Sincavage not only to set aside the murder conviction, but also to bar Rueda and Wittmann from serving as prosecutors if a new trial was pursued.

Sincavage said he would rule on the motions at 1 p.m. Thursday.

12 thoughts on “Castillo Attorneys Argue to Overturn Murder Conviction

  • 2016-12-05 at 6:20 pm

    Finally the word is getting out at how corrupt these prosecutors are. Nicole Wittman should be embarrassed about all of the lies she told in her closing argument. She knew Castillo couldn’t change his clothes and run half a mile to Mrs. Castillo’s house in two minutes so she argued the distance between the houses was a tenth of a mile (a lie). She knew he didn’t have a key or code to get into the house so she just changed what the witnesses testified to (the housekeeper testified she armed the security system before leaving that day). She knew water records showed that Mrs. Castillo turned on her shower between 1-2 am, well after the alleged jogger left the house. So she put in the wrong water records that didn’t account for daylight savings time. She had proof that defense experts were provided all of the evidence to review but deliberately argued the opposite to mislead the jurors. By the way, this is the same prosecutor’s office who refused to prosecute Mr. Castillo for any kind of abuse because Michelle Castillo’s story “defied common sense” according to the lead domestic violence prosecutor.

    And their argument today was equally sad and appalling. Nicole Wittman represented that prosecutor Alex Rueda didn’t even remember meeting with Det. McCaffrey about a death investigation, she didn’t bother to review the autopsy, and she apparently declined to prosecute and closed the case. This girl’s death meant so little to Ms. Rueda that she didn’t even remember this meeting taking place or making a decision not to prosecute the drug supplier. She didn’t even bother to look at the autopsy! Ms. Rueda seems awfully cavalier about a young girl’s death. I only hope that girl’s family looks into this corruption and laziness further for themselves. Their daughter’s life was worth more than a quick meeting in passing with the detective that Ms. Rueda apparently doesn’t even remember.

  • 2016-12-05 at 7:05 pm

    This is a classic case of prosecutor’s “Win at ALL costs” mentality that sends innocent people to prison way more often than anyone wants to think. Wittman finally was held accountable for her deplorable closing argument that was filled with lies, innuendos, digs and unsubstantiated facts that had no evidence to support them, as Mr. Greenspun so aptly pointed out today. Her only defense was not disputing each allegation, but instead just repeatedly stating “Well you didn’t object!!” Seriously?? So lie lie lie away and hope they get tired of objecting? And regarding the McCafferty/Rueda incident -it was hard not to laugh out loud as Wittman got all flustered and read testimony from Rueda stating she was stunned McCafferty said they talked and she declined to prosecute, had no recollection of meeting with McCafferty, then turns around and says this all falls on Ms. Rueda – Just because she doesn’t remember this, it doesn’t mean they didn’t have a meeting – are you kidding me!? Talk about backtracking! And should a prosecutor for the county still have a job if she forgets conversations on whether to charge someone and let’s them slip through the cracks while the family of this poor girl lose their opportunity to obtain justice? This is a no brainer and I can only hope the judge will allow for a fair trial with ethical prosecutors so justice can truly be served.

  • 2016-12-06 at 8:23 am

    His blood on the pillow
    His blood on the bed sheets
    His blood on her sweatshirt

    Game, Set, Match!

  • 2016-12-06 at 12:07 pm

    I knew both Michelle and Braulio for many years through the church. I was very surprised when this happened, as many of us were. I had never seen Braulio be anything but caring towards Michelle and the kids and I always questioned his involvement in this case. I think the DNA was the one thing that always concerned me, even though I would expect his DNA to be in a house he lived in for a long time. But I did find it to be the most incriminating piece of evidence from everything I had read. Reading this article makes me question everything about this case. I had a hard time believing he would do something like this and now I have even greater reservations if both prosecutors and detectives are allowed to lie. If they will lie about something in another serious death investigation, what integrity does that lend to this case? I would hate to see an innocent person in prison for the rest of his life because prosecutors chose to lie to jurors. I’m also very concerned if they would deliberately submit false records to the court. If what the previous comment said is true, who turned on the shower after 1:00 AM? Did the detectives ever investigate anyone else? I want justice to be done but I also want justice to be built on fairness, not on lies by the prosecutors and detectives.

    And I also think the church should be much more understanding and supportive of divorce when it is necessary. None of us believed that Braulio had been abusive towards her. Why couldn’t MBC and close friends be more supportive of her simple desire to divorce? Why did they force her to get a protective order in order to then show their support? Everyone’s judgement about him and this entire case is one of the reasons I chose to leave the church. I am much happier where I am now in a smaller community church where people are more accepting and less quick to rush to judgement of others.

    As for HoHoHo’s comment, this is not a game and everyone involved, including Michelle’s memory, deserves far more respect than a comment such as that.

    • 2016-12-06 at 4:25 pm

      Let Justice Roll – I cannot tell you how happy I am to have someone who knew and liked and respected the Castillos comment – the DNA was there b/c he lived in that house for many years and that sweatshirt was his – and the blood? Minuscule amounts and the children’s blood was found too b/c we all have random cuts, nosebleeds – whatever and once blood hits a surface it remains for a long time. The DNA was simply not understood by the jurors. The prosecutors exaggerated, flat out lied,misled. And in the ultimate of ironies, the man who is parenting the children testified FOR Braulio in the protective order hearing. You are right -he is a good guy and there was not ONE bit of testimony that he ever raised his voice even to her, abused her in any way shape or form. MY goodness, her own mother believes Michelle killed herself and said Braulio was nothing but great to her but it was a a marriage like any – ups and downs and challenges but she supports Braulio 100% and has NO financial gain as the disgusting questions from the prosecutors intimated. Desperate attempts to disparage a grieving mother – reprehensible behavior in my book.

  • 2016-12-06 at 1:47 pm

    Non-family, non-MBC observer here — who knew the family for many years This man in a mask was polite-facing to outsiders, but very, very, very domineering in the privacy of home, to her, to the kids, etc…quite a few examples. He was the bankroll to his siblings, to her mom (even after she died, but before the trial, he buys Michelle’s mom a new car — you decide if that is greasing the witness). Paid for housing for siblings, cars, vacation, etc…think that is coming back as friendly witnesses who want him to stay free? Recall his older sister hardly knowing a thing about his habits, behavior, under questioning? Yea, right. And if all the bio evidence was allowed in the court, you’d hear more irrefutable evidence, and they could be allowed in if ever a retrial.

    • 2016-12-06 at 4:30 pm

      Impartiality – Here is a lesson – just because a slimy prosecutor insinuates something – like Michelle’s mom had a car bought by Mr. Castillo – does NOT make it so – that is an outright lie that that had no basis in fact – as was evidenced by Nicole breezing right past it when her mom denied that accusation. Utter and complete BS but you and all of the other haters buy into it. If you knew the family for years – tell me why not ONE friend, family member etc. or you…EVER during the trial testified to one ill word or action towards Michelle by Mr. Castillo during a 20 year marriage?? He is a generous man who helps his family -what the heck does that have to do with anything – nothing is the answer!

  • 2016-12-06 at 3:01 pm

    Actually Michelle’s mom testified that he never bought her a car and I imagine it wouldn’t be hard to prove otherwise if he had. Why should it be held against him that he helped his family out financially from time to time? Would you prefer he didn’t help his family? Would you prefer he hadn’t donated to charities as well, including charities important to the church? I don’t even understand the point of the comment. MBC’s own pastor came to them for financial help before and the Castillo’s paid for their children’s tuition at one point. Should that now be held against him too? Should them donating a large portion of their income to MBC be held against him for some reason?

    And the fact remains that there is not a single witness who can truthfully testify that they ever saw him abuse her in any way, shape, or form. Not the kids. Not her friends. Not a single family member. Nobody witnessed a single incident of abuse. The only thing that wasn’t allowed in trial was unsubstantiated hearsay… and rightly so.

  • 2016-12-06 at 7:28 pm

    It is clear that several of the previous comments were composed by the defense team. Any reasonable human being would conclude from all of the evidence that he is guilty. The jury got it right.

    • 2016-12-06 at 8:55 pm

      Justice Now – I am definitely not a member of the defense team – just someone who has worked with Mr. Castillo in the past and came to like and respect him during that time – thus I have an interest in this case. Any reasonable human being would not expect prosecutors to be SO unethical, dishonest, etc… But I have heard buzz around the courthouse that it is no surprise. How were these jurors to know? Not to mention the ridiculously bad press filled with innuendo and inaccuracies surely made its way to some of them prior to sitting on the jury. The jurors deliberated with 400+ exhibits I believe for about a nano second. Ridiculous.

  • 2016-12-06 at 8:20 pm

    The DNA:
    Falsehood from the prosecutors – Her sweatshirt and linens were COVERED in his blood. TRUTH from the EVIDENCE-
    1. The only testing done for blood was “presumptive”. That means it MAY be blood. The forensic people never did “confirmatory” testing to confirm it was blood. There are a lot of false positives with the presumptive tests. Why didn’t they do confirmatory tests? Ask the prosecutors.
    2. “Blood” on the pillowcase. The jurors didn’t seem to notice that there was no picture of Castillo’s alleged “blood” on the pillowcase. They did show pictures of the pillowcase where they found Michelle’s blood and two of the children’s blood. Maybe the kids did it? Apparently Mr. Castillo’s “blood” or DNA was found in a stain about 1/8 inch in size. It all looked like some of my older pillowcases – let’s be real, people get nosebleeds, cuts, whatever. Oh and by the way, this wasn’t a stabbing. Michelle wasn’t bleeding (per the Loudoun Co. Medical Examiner) and Castillo had a tiny cut on his pinkie (less than a 1/4 in.)
    3. “Blood” on the sheets. There were emails b/w Castillo and Michelle about her lending him extra sheets after she kicked him out. And her washing machine was broken a few days before her death so the housekeeper took her laundry to Castillo’s house and washed it there. Plus, the prosecution argued over and over that Mr. Castillo sloppily made the bed in MC’s room which he said he did that morning after retrieving his son’s blanket. AND there was someone else’s DNA w/ Braulio Castillo’s that they couldn’t identify…
    4. “Blood” on sweatshirt she was wearing. It was his sweatshirt. Trust me, Michelle, who wanted $38K a month in spousal support did not wear a ripped up XL man’s Abercrombie sweatshirt to bed every night. In the one picture the prosecution showed of Michelle wearing the sweatshirt, it was from 10 years ago when she was 7 MONTHS PREGNANT! The clothes were constantly going back and forth b/w the homes (they had 4 young kids) and the daughter occasionally wore his clothes.
    His “blood” was found in 3 areas – in 2 of the areas there was NO VISIBLE EVIDENCE of blood. What does that tell you? Tells me that his DNA was there b/c it was his sweatshirt and had been washed many times so you couldn’t even see the blood from probably years ago. The lab never did testing to determine who was the wearer of the sweatshirt – by checking inside back collar, underarm areas, etc…Check the transcripts. In the 3rd area where they found his “blood”, the lab cut several pieces of the sweatshirt and mixed it all up in a tube and found his DNA. No idea where exactly on the sweatshirt it was found.
    5. To Impartiality who posted about “bio evidence” that didn’t come in? Everything came in so that’s just not true. The cord she used to hang herself was covered in DNA – HERS! There was also a full palm print on sink counter and it wasn’t Castillo’s. Why didn’t the CSI people dust the showerhead or shower caddy that was removed from showerhead for prints or DNA??? Don’t say everything was wiped clean like the Prosecutors lied. There were 2 big spots on the shower wall…
    The truth is that the sheriff’s office had tunnel vision, there was a ton of misreporting to the public and I fear the jury thought he was guilty b/c he was arrested and just checked the boxes to be sure they had enough, so they could tell their friends they did their job and found him guilty b/c the media and everyone else was sure he was… The prosecutors “had to win” this case (their own words). Truth be damned.
    Watch out all you husbands who are going through a divorce, if your soon-to-be ex becomes depressed enough to end it all, better call your lawyer and pray you don’t live in Loudoun County when it happens.

    • 2016-12-06 at 10:29 pm

      Let’s not forget the foreign unknown DNA under Michelle’s fingernails and the foreign unknown DNA on the bed sheets. So, according to the prosecutors, if the only possible way Braulio’s DNA got there was by being there that night, then that means someone else was also there that night too. At least that would account for the two wine glasses in the kitchen sink.

      What some people (prosecutors included apparently) don’t understand is that DNA isn’t fussy. It’s stable, easily transferrable, and long lasting. Just because you can find DNA from Abraham Lincoln on his favorite chair doesn’t mean he must have sat in it yesterday.

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