The Virginia Court of Appeals has upheld convictions for first-degree murder, burglary and violation of a protective order against Braulio Castillo resulting from the death of his estranged wife in March 2014.
Circuit Court Judge Stephen Sincavage presided over the six-week jury trial in 2016. Castillo’s attorneys appealed the convictions on 10 counts, ranging from challenging the selection of jury members to prosecutorial misconduct. In a 66-page ruling, the appeals court denied each alleged assignment of error.
The jury heard evidence of Castillo breaking into the Ashburn home of his estranged wife, Michelle, suffocating and strangling her, and then staging the scene to make it appear as a suicide. Prosecutors presented forensic, medical, and cell phone evidence, as well as security camera footage a close friend said showed Castillo going up to the home the night before the victim was found hanging in a basement bathroom.
The case also featured testimony by a cadaver dog handler that was used to argue that the death had actually occurred in an upstairs bedroom—a legally ground-breaking approach in Virginia.
“The opinion is a significant one for the Commonwealth,” said Chief Deputy Commonwealth’s Attorney Nicole Wittmann, who was the lead trial attorney. “The Court was very thorough in its analysis, addressing each issue of appeal. Additionally, of particular significance was that the evidence related to the cadaver dog, an issue of first impression in Virginia, was found to be proper and admissible.”
The dog handler, Martin Grime, was hired by the FBI to come to America and help establish a cadaver dog program. He brought his two dogs, Morse the cadaver dog, and Keela the blood detection dog, to the Castillo home 17 days after the body was located. Morse alerted to the basement bathroom where the body was found, and also to the foot of her bed in the master bedroom.
In a statement to the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office following the appeal, Grimes said prosecutors’ “support for our search philosophy and strategy ensured that all relevant forensic intelligence was secured and helped solve the case. It is that sort of forward thinking and acceptance of science and support of research that makes your team a cut above the rest.”