Thursday, February 27, 2003
Court of Appeal Upholds Murder Conviction in Wife-Beating
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer/Appellate Courts
The husband of an Eastside mother of six who died from blunt force trauma to the head a month after being beaten was properly convicted of first degree murder and torture, the Court of Appeal for this district has ruled.
Antonio Vasquez, who was also convicted of three counts of spouse abuse based on incidents that occurred in the days prior to the fatal attack on Rosario Castillo, claimed that he acted in a drunken rage triggered by Castillo’s habitual drinking, smoking in their apartment against his wishes, and failing to take care of their youngest child. Vasquez had previously been convicted twice of beating Castillo.
His court-appointed attorney, Gordon S. Brownell, cited Court of Appeal cases holding that first degree murder charges were inappropriate in cases where parents had killed children in fits of uncontrolled anger.
But Presiding Justice Joan Dempsey Klein, writing Tuesday for the Court of Appeal’s Div. Three, said there was more than enough evidence to support the jury’s findings of premeditated murder and torture.
“Vasquez’s acts of cruelty were not done in explosive fits by a frustrated parent attempting to control a child’s behavior,” Klein said in an unpublished opinion. “Castillo was not a child and Vasquez had no right to discipline her. There was no evidence of any arguably legitimate purpose for the brutal and painful injuries inflicted upon Castillo.”
The jurist cited evidence that Vasquez had beaten Castillo every day for a week, before she slipped into a coma, using a belt, his fists, and an aluminum baseball bat.
A detective, who investigated after police looking into an unrelated crime were asked by the manager of the apartment building in which the couple lived to check in on Castillo, observed her the day before she was hospitalized and said she had been bruised “from head to toe” but did not want her injuries photographed, did not want to go to the hospital, and did not want to prosecute.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge William Pounders, who tried the case and sentenced Vasquez to a term of 25 years to life in prison, said in denying the defense motion for judgment of acquittal:
“What is obvious in this case is that the brutalization of Rosario Castillo was shocking, so shocking that the photographs of her injuries brought bailiffs from other courts to this court to see those injuries. It was difficult to believe that any one person could be so vicious as to inflict the injuries to Rosario that we saw in the photographs, and it was over a period of time that she was essentially tortured to death by the beatings, including the beating with the baseball bat.”
Klein also rejected the defense challenge to the admission of evidence of a 1995 incident in which Vasquez had kicked Castillo and beaten her with a metal spoon and was convicted of felony spouse abuse. Klein agreed with the trial judge and with Deputy Attorney General Alan D. Tate, who briefed the case for the prosecution, that the evidence was admissible to show intent and identity, as well as for impeachment.
The case is People v. Vasquez, B157132.
Copyright 2003, Metropolitan News Company