Verdicts Handed Down In Murder-Kidnapping Case
Final verdicts were handed down Friday afternoon in the Palo Alto County District Court for the final defendant in a 10-year-old murder-kidnapping case. Third Judicial District Court Judge Don E. Courtney announced three guilty verdicts to Juan Humberto Castillo-Alvarez, also known as Ricardo Castillo, to conclude a bench trial held in the Clay County District Court in Spencer back on Sept. 18, 19 and 21 of 2007.
Security at the courthouse was noticeably tightened Friday as the time for the verdicts approached. All persons entering the second floor District Courtroom were required to pass through a metal detector manned by the Palo Alto County Sheriff’s Deputies and Reserves on the ground floor of the courthouse.
At approximately 12:55 p.m., Castillo-Alvarez was led into the courtroom with his feet and hands shackled by Clay County Jailer Dan Lee and Clay County Sheriff’s Deputy Brad Hawley, along with Clay County Sheriff Randy Krukow. Palo Alto County Sheriff Denny Goeders and Chief Deputy Todd Suhr were also on hand in the court room, along with Emmet County Sheriff Larry Lamack and Chief Deputy Mike Martens, to provide security in the courtroom during the verdict.
Castillo-Alvarez sat at a table waiting for the verdicts, and when court convened, was flanked by his court-appointed attorney, Michael K. Williams, and an interpreter. Castillo-Alvarez showed no visible emotion as the judge read the verdicts and translated by an interpreter.
The verdicts concluded the trials of the participants in a kidnapping and murder that occurred in June of 1997 involving Gregory “Sky” Erickson of Spencer. Erickson was allegedly kidnapped from his residence in Spencer after he had been unable to pay a debt for marijuana Castillo-Alvarez had advanced him to sell. Erickson was taken against his will from Spencer to Estherville and was later beaten in rural Dickinson County before being taken to an abandoned farmhouse in southern Jackson, County, Minnesota, where he was shot twice, once in the head, which caused his death. Participants in the crime later burned his body in an attempt to mask the offense.
Castillo-Alvarez was implicated in the original trials of nine defendants involved in the kidnapping and murder as being the ringleader of the group during the time frame of the crime, which occurred in June of 1997. In the time following the murder, area authorities conducted an investigation and arrested the individuals, but Castillo-Alvarez fled to Mexico to avoid prosecution.
In October of 2006, Mexican authorities extradited Castillo-Alvarez to the United States, where he was taken into custody by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Clay County Sheriff’s Office, who returned him to Spencer. A bench trial was conducted before Judge Courtney over three days in September of last year, and the verdicts were announced in the Palo Alto County District Court, due to scheduling conflicts.
In the original indictments, Castillo-Alvarez was charged with the crimes of Murder in the Second Degree, in violation of Iowa Code section 707.3; Kidnapping in the Second Degree, in violation of Iowa Code section 710.3 and Conspiracy to commit a forcible felony, in violation of Iowa Code sections 706.1 and 706.3.
During the course of his incarceration in the Clay County Jail, Castillo-Alvarez befriended a fellow inmate, Gabriel Utrera Cedillo, and told Cedillo about the charges against him. In those discussions, is purported that Castillio-Alvarez told Cedillo that “he sent Mexican people and American people to bring the American child from Spencer to Estherville and that he had ordered him to be beaten and then killed.”
During the bench trial, Cedillo testified to what Castillo-Alvarez had told him during their time together in jail, and the state had built a substantial portion of its case on that testimony, along with testimony from the original defendants following the crime.
Under Iowa Code, the crime of Murder in the Second Degree is punishable by a sentence of up to 50 years in jail with a minimum sentence of 35 years. Additionally, the crime of Kidnapping in the Second Degree carries a 25-year jail sentence and Conspiracy to Commit a Forcible Felony carries a mandatory 10-year jail term.
Judge Courtney set 10 a.m. on March 4 in the Clay County District Court as the time and place for sentencing.