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San Antonio 'lovers' lane' killer slated for execution today

San Antonio 'lovers' lane' killer slated for execution today

May 16th, 2018 by Associated Press in Texas News

This May 9, 2018 photo shows Juan Edward Castillo at the Texas Department of Criminal Justice Polunsky Unit near Livingston, Texas. Castillo who is convicted of killing Tommy Garcia Jr. is set for execution Wednesday, May 16, 2018, for the slaying more than 14 years ago. He'd be the sixth inmate put to death this year in Texas, more than any other state. (AP Photo/Mike Graczyk)

HUNTSVILLE, Texas—The lure of drugs and sex was too enticing to ignore for a San Antonio rapper with a reputation for carrying a lot of cash and wearing flashy jewelry.

What 19-year-old Tommy Garcia Jr. didn't know was the proposition to take a woman he knew to a San Antonio "lovers' lane" was a setup for an ambush robbery. The plot crumbled when he refused to surrender any money and was shot seven times by a man identified as the woman's boyfriend.

Juan Edward Castillo, convicted of killing Garcia, is set for execution today for the slaying more than 14 years ago.

He'd be the sixth inmate put to death this year in Texas, more than any other state.

Castillo's appeals lawyers contended no physical evidence tied him to the crime and trial testimony from witnesses who said they heard Castillo talk about committing the crime was either false or misleading.

At his trial, two eyewitnesses testified they saw Castillo shoot Garcia, three people said they heard him talk about the killing and another witness testified he was wearing jewelry that belonged to the victim, Matthew Howard, an assistant Bexar County district attorney, said.

On Monday, the Texas parole board refused a clemency request, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to review a claim focusing on testimony against Castillo from a fellow county jail inmate in San Antonio. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, the state's highest criminal court, refused an appeal related to another witness who disputed his own trial testimony against Castillo. Attorneys also had accused prosecutors of withholding information from a police interview with a witness whose testimony they said could have challenged witnesses who did testify against Castillo.

Howard argued the late filings were legally improper, insisted no evidence was withheld and that Castillo's lawyers have been unable to explain "why he, a supposed innocent, was implicated in the robbery-murder by so many people."

It wasn't clear if additional appeals for Castillo would be filed. His lawyers didn't immediately respond Tuesday to messages left by The Associated Press. Howard said he wasn't aware of any new petitions.

Castillo, 36, denied any involvement in the slaying.

"I didn't do it," Castillo told the AP last week in an interview outside death row. "I was so positive I'd get the case dismissed I refused to plead guilty. So I go to trial."

He said he rejected several plea offers that would have removed the death penalty as punishment, knew the woman, Debra Espinosa, who testified against him and who was in the car with Garcia, but denied her assertion that she was Castillo's girlfriend.

"Girlfriend-boyfriend, it was nothing like that," Castillo said.

She and Francisco Gonzales, who authorities said accompanied Castillo to the ambush, accepted 40-year prison terms in plea agreements. A fourth person, Teresa Quintero, pleaded no contest to a robbery charge and received 20 years. Testimony showed she was the driver who took Castillo and Gonzales the night of Dec. 3, 2003, to a dark San Antonio road known as a lovers' lane to carry out what Gonzales testified was supposed to be a simple robbery.

Espinosa testified she'd known Garcia for years and promised him drugs and sex in his car. Once they were parked, testimony showed Castillo smashed a window with the butt of his pistol, opened the doors and demanded Garcia's money. But Garcia, who had attracted attention on San Antonio's south side as a rap artist known as J.R., refused and was shot, then shot again when he tried to run away.

Relatives said Castillo talked about the killing and a witness said she saw him a day later wearing a distinctive medallion on a thick gold chain that had belonged to Garcia. The jewelry was his, not the victim's, Castillo insisted last week from prison.

Castillo was 22 and already had been in prison with a two-year sentence for deadly conduct with a firearm when he was arrested for Garcia's murder. At his trial, the mother of Castillo's son told of repeated domestic violence incidents. Other witnesses linked him to shootings, robberies, assaults and drug dealing.

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