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Guilty plea in fatal shooting

Feb 15, 2012 - By Martin Reed Staff Writer

Between heavy sobs and sniffling, he muttered the sentence: "I'm the one that's not supposed to be here right now."

Erasmo Castillo talked about how, after returning from a downtown Riverton bar, he re-enacted a movie with his cousin Cesar Perez Jr., and the scene required a gun.

Perez took the pistol -- its magazine removed -- and pointed it at Castillo. He pulled the trigger. Nothing.

Castillo later did the same thing, but the gun discharged the second time. The bullet killed his cousin.

"Yeah, that's what I don't understand, why it didn't go off when he did it," Castillo said Feb. 9, pleading guilty to involuntary manslaughter for killing Perez.

Plea agreement

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

Under an agreement with the prosecution, Castillo faces a prison sentence of up to eight years 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 in October.

Castillo, 27, appeared in court for this change-of-plea hearing dressed in orange jail clothes and wearing chains around his wrists and ankles.

'Like a brother'

With his head often down, his chin on his chest and his eyes cast to the ground, Castillo told the court about his relationship with Perez, whom he described as a brother.

"Why do you say 'like a brother?'" defense attorney Gordon Ellis asked him in court.

"Because I never had one," Castillo said.

Castillo said the shooting happened in the hotel room where he stayed with his cousin Perez, his brother-in-law and his cousin.

Castillo cried heavily without speaking when Ellis asked him what happened to Perez. After Ellis repeated the question another time, Castillo muttered, "I don't want to do this."

After another prompting, Castillo said he and Perez were role-playing movies "and there was a gun involved, and we didn't know the gun was loaded."

Perez had fired the weapon without any effect, so he believed the gun to be harmless, he said.

"When I went around and did it, the gun went off," Castillo said.

"Did you know the gun was loaded?" Ellis asked.

"No," Castillo said.

"If you had known the gun was loaded would you have done that?" Ellis asked.

"Of course not," Castillo said.

Difficult question

Later, Ellis asked what seemed to be the hardest question of all.

"Erasmo, did Cesar die as a result of that? I'm sorry, I don't want to ask it," he said.

"Yes, he did," Castillo said, fresh sobs erupting from him.

Investigators learned from an interview that Castillo, Perez and the two others in their group had been at a bar before returning to the hotel room the night of the shooting, according to court documents.

Castillo and Perez started wrestling in their room, but the shooting happened sometime later, according to court documents. Police found Perez with a single gunshot wound to the right side of his head that may have exited through his left ear.

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

In court, Castillo talked about how he and Perez would hang out together frequently. They would play baseball, go fishing, have some drinks, and barbecue.

"We won't be able to do that anymore," Castillo said.

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