ESCONDIDO — Jose Castenada lied to authorities about the death of his girlfriend’s toddler son; however, he’s not the one who unleashed the “explosive” fatal attack on the boy nearly four years ago, nor did he ever abuse the toddler’s sister, his attorney said May 27 in a Vista courtroom.
Throughout attorney Allen Bloom’s opening statement, he alluded that Cesar Razo’s mother, Maria, pinned her son’s death on Castenada, 24, and then took a plea deal to minimize her potential prison sentence.
Maria Razo faces nearly 17 years in prison. Meanwhile Castenada could be sentenced to death. He’s charged with murder, assault on a child and two counts each of torture and child cruelty.
Bloom said Castenada was the “calming” person in the couple’s relationship. He said their backgrounds are key to understanding why Maria Razo, 27, would have a higher propensity for abusive behavior, partly because she comes from a strong “corporal punishment background.” Castenada, an illegal immigrant from Guatemala, comes from a nonviolent culture and has no reported history of violence, the lawyer said.
Further, Bloom said Castenada didn’t report Maria Razo’s abuse of her son because he didn’t know the extent of the abuse. He also had concerns of going to authorities because he and Maria Razo, of Mexico, were both illegal immigrants, Bloom told jurors.
“Jose’s trying to protect Maria,” Bloom said. “That’s why he lies to police.”
When the couple took an unconscious Cesar Razo to the hospital June 25, 2005, they told the hospital staff the boy fell from a swing, but authorities were called after doctors discovered more than 200 bruises on the child.
Cesar Razo died later that day. An autopsy revealed the 2-year-old boy died from two fatal blows that were delivered to his abdomen and the back of his skull.
Both the prosecution and defense showed the jury home videos that Castenada filmed of Cesar Razo in the months leading up to his death. Despite the videos being the same, each side had their own interpretation of what the videos revealed.
One video showed Cesar Razo dancing to rap music in the couple’s bedroom. At one point in the video, the toddler goes off screen to Castenada’s side, but then quickly returns to view crying and holding his ear.
The other video featured the defendant documenting the injuries on a naked Cesar Razo. Bloom said the first film was a video of the child for Castenada’s mother in Guatemala. The latter, Bloom said was the defendant’s discovery and documentation of the abuse Cesar Razo had suffered.
However, prosecutors believe the videos show Castenada taking pleasure in tormenting and torturing the toddler. Deputy District Attorney Lucy Weismantel said the bedroom where both video segments were shot was the defendant’s own personal set to carry out the abuse. She said the couple forced the toddler to live in their closet with a little blanket.
Weismantel described Maria Razo as “pathetic” and a “very weak parent.”
Maria Razo pleaded guilty June 8, 2007, to voluntary manslaughter and two counts of felony child abuse with the allegation that great bodily injury was inflicted, relating to Cesar Razo and her then 5-year-old daughter. Maria Razo and her daughter are expected to testify at trial.