ESCONDIDO — For now, Jose Maurice Castaneda will not be executed for the murder of his girlfriend’s toddler son; however, the mistrial July 6 in the death penalty phase of his case has done little to lift the sadness he feels for Cesar Razo’s death, his attorney said.
Attorney Allen Bloom said his client loved the 2-year-old Cesar Razo like his own son. “He’s adamantly and repeatedly stated he did not kill that little boy or hurt that little boy,” the lawyer said during a phone interview following the court’s ruling. “There’s no happy ending in any of this. This young boy is dead and Jose is going to die in prison unless there is a reversal on an appeal, and those are difficult to obtain.”
After approximately six hours of deliberation, the same panel of jurors who convicted Castaneda, 24, just a week earlier of first-degree murder with the special circumstance of torture, informed Superior Court Judge Joan Weber they were hopelessly deadlocked 9-3 in favor of life in prison without parole.
On July 2, after less than a half a day of deliberation, the panel told Weber they were hung; however, she ordered them back to court after the holiday weekend to continue deliberating due to the magnitude of evidence in the two-month trial.
In addition to the murder of Cesar Razo, Castaneda was convicted of a single felony count each of assaulting a child under the age of 8 that resulted in death, torture and child abuse with the allegation of great bodily injury, all of these charges were related to the young boy. The jury also found Castaneda guilty of a lesser including charge of misdemeanor child abuse relating to Cesar Razo’s sister, who was 5 at the time. However, the panel acquitted him on a felony torture charge in connection with the young girl.
Castaneda and the boy’s mother, Maria Razo, 27, took Cesar Razo to the Palomar Medical Center around 4:40 p.m. June 25, 2005, telling the staff the unconscious toddler fell from a playground swing set. Cesar Razo was pronounced dead shortly after his arrival. Doctors found more than 354 external bruises and marks on his body. He died of two blows, one to his stomach and the other to the back of his head, according to the autopsy report.
Cesar Razo’s sister testified Castaneda beat and slammed her brother up against the bedroom wall that June afternoon because the boy wouldn’t stop crying while the defendant was trying to sleep after he had worked all night and morning.
Bloom said the case was strange, because neither Castaneda nor Maria Razo has any history of violence in their background and both had cared for kids prior to the incident.
Throughout the trial, Bloom pointed toward Maria Razo saying her deep depression and family background, one of corporal punishment, may account for the explosion she unleashed on her son that morning before Castaneda came home from work.
Bloom said by the time Castaneda arrived home around 12:30 p.m., one of his roommates was also home at their Escondido apartment on Bear Valley Parkway, and that male roommate testified he didn’t hear any crying or violent beating that afternoon.
“It’s just a huge mystery what happened,” Bloom said.
Maria Razo will be sentenced to 16 years and eight months in prison Aug. 21 for her role in the death of her son and the abuse that was inflicted on her two children. She pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter and two counts of felony child abuse with the allegation that she inflicted great bodily injury in June 2007. In addition to the prison sentence, she will have three strikes and will be deported back to Mexico.
Both Castaneda and Razo were found to be living in the country illegally.
Castaneda came to San Diego County from Guatemala when he was 13, after his father died, to help provide for his mother, Bloom said.
His mother, Dominga, and grandfather, Marcos, were in attendance throughout much of the trial.
Throughout the case, prosecutors shed light on another side of Castaneda. They portrayed him as young man suffering from dual personalities.
In her closing arguments, Deputy District Attorney Lucy Weismantel said at times Castaneda could be a friend and father figure, but when things didn’t go his way he turned to evil, which can be seen in the torture and killing of Cesar Razo.
Following the mistrial, Deputy District Attorney Keith Watanabe, who co-prosecuted the case, said in a phone interview his office hasn’t made a decision whether to retry the death penalty phase. If they do, he said all the charges would stand and the new jury would just be tasked with determining if Castaneda should be executed; however, the prosecution would have to represent all the evidence to the new panel.
A July 30 conference was scheduled to determine where the case will go next. If the District Attorney’s Office does not wish to retry the death penalty phase, Castaneda could be sentenced to life in prison without parole.