Texas man gets five- to eight-year term for cousin's death

Apr 29, 2012 By Martin Reed, Staff Writer

His crying making him difficult to understand during his sentencing for fatally shooting his cousin in the head last August, Erasmo Castillo said they came to Riverton to work and have fun.

"I'm sorry for what I did. I wish I could take it back, but I can't," the 27-year-old Baytown, Texas, man said on April 26 in the quiet Lander courtroom.

"I never wanted any of this happen."

For the death of Cesar Perez Jr., whom Castillo considered a brother, Castillo will serve between five to eight years in prison on a charge of involuntary manslaughter.

During much of the roughly 40-minute hearing, Castillo sobbed and sniffled as he sat wearing bright orange jail clothes next to his defense attorney Gordon Ellis.

Play-acting scene

When Castillo pleaded guilty to the charge under an agreement in February, he told Ninth District Judge Norman E. Young the shooting happened after he and Perez returned from a downtown bar to their hotel room.

The two decided to re-enact a movie scene that involved a gun one of them had brought. The clip had been removed, and they thought it was unloaded.

Castillo said Perez pointed the gun at him and pulled the trigger with nothing happening. When Castillo did the same to Perez, the gun discharged and killed Perez.

Fremont County Deputy Attorney Patrick LeBrun contrasted the killing to a 10-year-old boy who gets into his dad's gun cabinet and shoots someone.

"Not a 25-year-old person, and that is what makes this a prison-worthy sentence," LeBrun said.

He later said that when a 25-year-old man points a gun at someone's head, pulls the trigger and kills the person, "you've got to go to prison for that."

Saying he would not call the shooting "accidental," LeBrun noted that Castillo "didn't intend to kill" the victim.

"I don't have any doubt at all that Mr. Castillo is sorry about killing his cousin Cesar on August 12th, and really I have no doubt there was no intent," he said.

Castillo's story seems to represent the truth, LeBrun said. There was "no physical evidence to dispute it. Basically Cesar and he were playing with a gun, a large-caliber handgun," he said.

LeBrun recounted the explanation Castillo gave about re-enacting a movie scene.

"I don't have any evidence at all to dispute his version of that," he said. "As soon as Mr. Castillo was arrested, he told that story and caused me to believe it."

Castillo has remained in the Fremont County Detention Center following his arrest for the Aug. 12 shooting in a Riverton motel that happened a day after the pair, along with two others, arrived from Baytown, Texas, to work.

Police responded to a call at the motel and found Perez with a single gunshot wound to the right side of his head, according to court documents.

Castillo fled the motel room with the pistol still in hand, sparking a manhunt spanning two days until he was found on the Wind River Indian Reservation with the weapon on him.

Under an agreement with the prosecution, Castillo faced up to eight years in prison for pleading guilty to felony involuntary manslaughter.

He had been charged with two counts of manslaughter that each carried a maximum punishment of 20 years in prison and a $10,000 fine. Prosecutors requested the dismissal of a second-degree murder charge last October.

LeBrun called the shooting "a reckless death" committed by a man with four convictions for domestic violence. "At a minimum he's not as gentle as he should be," he said about Castillo's criminal history.

He also raised the feelings of the victim's family in determining an appropriate sentence. "Obviously the victim's mother doesn't have her son anymore. The victim's sister doesn't have her brother anymore," he said.

Perez's mother wants Castillo to go to prison, "and that's not easy for her because Erasmo is her nephew," LeBrun said.

Castillo's defense attorney tried to convince the judge to allow his client to avoid jail and serve probation. "We're not disputing that it's reckless conduct. What we're disputing is that every sentence that involves death" should result in prison, he said.

"This was nothing but a freak accident that was far stranger than any fiction writer could ever write," Ellis said.

Young called the matter a "tough case, there's no doubt about that." He rejected a probation sentence because it is "inappropriate given the seriousness of the consequence here."

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