Ashburn man accused of killing his wife will face grand jury
An Ashburn man accused of murdering his wife and then staging the crime scene to look like a suicide will face a grand jury, a judge ruled Thursday.
In front of a packed courtroom, Juvenile and Domestic Relations Judge Pamela Brooks issued her ruling at the close of the nearly four-hour preliminary hearing.
Braulio Castilo, 43, will be in court again May 19 when the grand jury convenes.
“I believe it’s more than likely that Michelle Castillo did not commit suicide, I believe it’s more than likely that she was murdered, and I believe that it’s more than likely that she was killed by Braulio Castillo,” Brooks told the court.
Because it's just a preliminary hearing, the burden of proof is simply probable cause, not beyond a reasonable doubt.
Braulio Castillo was charged April 1 for the March 19 murder of his estranged wife Michelle Castillo, 43. Michelle Castillo, who had filed for divorce from Braulio Castillo -- and was granted an order of protection against him -- was found March 20 beaten and hanging from a bathroom shower. Police undertook a nearly two-week investigation before arresting Braulio Castillo for the murder.
Chief Deputy Commonwealth’s Attorney Nicole Wittmann and Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Ryan Perry called eight witnesses during the hearing in an attempt to piece together the last two days of Michelle Castillo’s life.
Ryan Pettengill, a triathlon coach with Team Z who was helping Michelle train, took the stand first and outlined how he and several other team members dined out at Clyde’s in Reston. Michelle Castillo had earlier run a marathon, qualifying for Boston, and looked happy, Pettengill said.
“She was a happy-go-lucky person anyways, so she seemed like herself: upbeat,” Pettengill said.
While Michelle Castillo ate, her husband had the couple’s four minor children -- an older son is 21 -- at his home for dinner, along with his sister and some other family.
Lucy Fuentes, Braulio Castillo’s older sister, said that around 8:05 p.m. she left her brother’s home, which is located just a half-mile from the Michelle Castillo’s Belmont Station home, for the Harris-Teeter on Belmont Ridge Road, to drop the kids off. Though Fuentes said she didn’t always drop the kids off, it wasn’t unusual.
She did note that Braulio Castillo urged her not to rush.
Neighbor Dalerick Cruder, who lives across the street, has numerous surveillance cameras set up along the perimeter of his home, including one that captures the edge of Michelle Castillo’s driveway.
The camera, time-stamped at 8:10 p.m. on March 19 shows a man on foot turning into the driver. David Meeker, a long-time family friend who, along with his wife, currently has custody of the Castillo children, identified the figure as Braulio Castillo.
“His right leg bows out when he runs,” Meeker said. “He has a distinct gait.”
At 8:19 p.m., the footage shows Michelle Castillo’s white Lincoln Navigator pulling into the driveway.
At 12:51 a.m. March 20, the camera shows a person exiting the driveway on foot.
The following morning, the children called their father when they couldn’t find their mother; the surveillance tape shows him and a neighbor entering the home to look for Michelle Castillo. After Braulio Castillo left with the children, the neighbor called Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office deputies, still feeling unease about the situation.
Deputy Peter Franco was one of the first to respond and after checking the perimeter for signs of forced entry, of which he found none, Franco entered the house to look for Michelle Castillo. After checking the main floor, he went into the basement. After entering a basement bathroom, he saw hair in the crack between the shower curtain; when he opened the curtain, he saw Michelle Castillo hanging.
EMTs would later come and pronounce her dead at the scene.
Crime Scene Investigator Ethan Martin would later document the scene, including a photograph of a pillow in the master bedroom stained brownish-red.
Detective Mark McCaffrey was assigned to the case. After visiting the scene and notifying the couple’s eldest son via telephone, McCaffrey went to Braulio Castillo’s home to notify him of his wife’s death in person. McCaffrey was struck by Braulio Castillo’s lack of concern and also noted that Castillo immediately told McCaffrey he had a lawyer.
“I said, ‘your wife’s dead’ and he just said, ‘oh,’” McCaffrey said.
McCaffrey also noticed Braulio Castillo had a black eye, a wound his sister said he didn’t have the night before, but that he claimed came from playing with his kids.
As the investigation progressed, McCaffrey began to suspect Braulio Castillo to be the perpetrator.
“I said, ‘all this evidence doesn’t make you look,” McCaffrey told the court. “I said, 'I know what you did, you know what you did and I’m coming for you.’”
Defense attorney Alex Levay argued that the commonwealth essentially provided no evidence beyond a grainy surveillance camera and a year-old protective order. He also noted there was no signs of forced entry.
“The absence of evidence is not evidence,” Levay said. “You can’t make inferences from a lack of evidence.”
Castillo is still being held at the Loudoun County Adult Detention Center because he has been unable to make his $2 million bail. If he does make bail, he is prevented from discussing the case with his children. Wittmann attempted to prevent visitation at all to his children, a situation Brooks said will be handled in a closed session.