San Antonio lovers' lane killer's execution called off
Updated 8:52 pm, Tuesday, November 28, 2017
A San Antonio death row inmate whose last execution date was cancelled due to Hurricane Harvey has again won a reprieve in light of claims that his conviction was based on false testimony.
Juan Castillo was set to die Dec. 14, but a court on Tuesday called off the date for the third time this year, bouncing the case back to a lower court.
The 36-year-old was convicted of killing teenage rapper Tommy Garcia Jr. in a botched robbery on a San Antonio lovers' lane.
Castillo's then-girlfriend lured the targeted man to a secluded spot with the promise of sex and drugs. Castillo was one of four people convicted in the crime, but he was fingered as the trigger man and was the only one hit with a capital sentence.
He was found guilty on what would have been his victim's 21st birthday.
"Mr. Castillo was convicted of capital murder and sentenced to death based on false testimony," said defense attorney Tim Gumkowski.
"There was no physical or forensic evidence presented that connected Mr. Castillo to this crime. Nor were there any independent witnesses that implicated Mr. Castillo. The only unbiased, seemingly independent testimony implicating Mr. Castillo was from an individual who we now know lied about Juan's involvement in the murder."
At Castillo's trial, fellow Bexar County jail inmate Gerardo Gutierrez testified that Castillo had described the crime in detail, confessing his role in the slaughter.
But in 2013, Gutierrez signed an affidavit admitted he'd lied.
"I described what Juan Castillo supposedly told me about the capital murder," he wrote, according to court filings. "Juan Castillo never told me this information about this capital murder case. This testimony was untrue about Juan Castillo. I made up this testimony to try to help myself."
Prosecutors argued that appeals based on the 2013 revelation were procedurally barred, could not be considered credible and only reiterated claims corroborated by other witness testimony.
But the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals looked to a 2009 decision mandating that - whether or not it's intentional - the use of false testimony violates due process. Because Castillo's only other habeas appeal in the trial court came before the 2009 decision, the appellate court on Tuesday decided to give him another chance.
Previously, Castillo had an execution date set for May, but Bexar County prosecutors asked to have it reset after they failed to give sufficient notice to the defense.
Around the same time, defense lawyers filed motions seeking DNA testing on a knit cap sent to a crime lab back in 2003, just weeks after the slaying.
But it was Hurricane Harvey and not DNA claims that prompted the cancellation of Castillo's September execution date.
The Dec. 14 date would have been the Lone Star State's eighth and last execution for 2017.
The next death date on the calendar is on Jan. 18, when Houston-area serial killer Anthony Shore is scheduled to die by lethal injection.