Defense opens case in child torture, death trial

ESCONDIDO — Despite being a defense witness, Jose Castenada’s former employer may have given insight into what caused the beating death of his girlfriend’s 2-year-old boy nearly five years ago when he testified June 18 in a Vista courtroom.
Larry Resz testified Castenada worked as a gardener for him off and on from 2000 to 2005. On June 25, 2005, Resz said the 24-year-old defendant worked from around 7:30 a.m. to noon, at which time Resz then took Castenada back to his apartment on Bear Valley Parkway in Escondido. On the way to Castenada’s residence, Resz said he turned down the defendant’s request for a raise, which he said clearly frustrated Castenada.
Resz, of Escondido, testified that he had paid Castenada $15 an hour and thought his request for more was “out of line.”
Several hours later, Castenada and the boy’s mother, Maria Razo, rushed her unconscious son, Cesar Razo, to the Palomar Medical Center after they couldn’t revive him at home. The couple arrived at the hospital around 4:40 p.m. and Castenada told the medical staff Cesar Razo had been knocked unconscious when he fell off a swing at the playground. Castenada and Maria Razo were arrested after doctors discovered more than 200 injuries to the toddler.
An autopsy revealed the toddler died sometime between 1:40 and 4:40 p.m. from a blow to his abdomen and the back of his head, which could have been inflicted as early as 10:40 a.m.
Castenada’s attorney, Allen Bloom, said in his opening statements that he believed Maria Razo inflicted the fatal injuries, while Castenada was at work, and then took a plea deal to minimize her potential prison sentence.
Maria Razo, 27, pleaded guilty in June 2007 to voluntary manslaughter and two counts of felony child abuse with the allegation that she inflicted great bodily injury. Under her agreement, she will be sentenced to 17 years in prison later this summer.
Castenada, of Guatemala, is charged with murder, assault on a child and two counts each of torture and child cruelty stemming from the death of 2-year-old Cesar Razo and the abuse he inflicted to the toddler’s then 5-year-old sister. If convicted, Castenada could face the death penalty.
Earlier in the week, Cesar Razo’s sister testified that she had been primarily abused by Castenada; however, she said her mother did strike her once with a broken clothes hanger. She said on the day that her brother died, Castenada hit and choked him, because he was crying a lot.
Before resting their case June 18, prosecutors played three short home videos that Castenada made of Cesar Razo with a video camera he stole from Resz. Two of the videos showed Cesar Razo dancing and blowing kisses into the camera at Castenada’s direction. The third video showed Castenada documenting the multitude of injuries on a naked Cesar Razo’s body. During this video, Castenada asked the boy several times if Maria Razo’s mother inflicted the injuries, to which the boy said yes.
Throughout the screening of the videos for the jury, which lasted several minutes, Castenada kept his head down, never once raising it to view the large projection screen just a few feet away.
Castenada, who remains in custody without bail, is expected to testify at the trial.

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