DA drops execution phase of child murder case

ESCONDIDO — The San Diego District Attorney’s Office will not seek another death penalty trial for convicted murderer Jose Maurice Castaneda, a prosecutor said July 24.
At a hearing July 23 in a Vista courtroom, Deputy District Attorney Lucy Weismantel said she informed Judge Joan Weber that her office did not want to retry Castaneda, 24, for execution relating to his June conviction for the 2005 murder and torture of his girlfriend’s 2-year-old son, Cesar Razo.
Weismantel cited the jury outcome of the initial death penalty phase, in which the panel was deadlocked 9-3 in favor of life in prison without parole, as reason for going forward with the sentencing. Additionally, she said case circumstances and the heavy expenses involved in a retrial also factored into the prosecutions decision to not retry for the death penalty.
While the initial death penalty phase, which followed a seven-week trial, only took a couple of days to present, the retrial could take a month or longer because all of the evidence and testimony would have to be reintroduced to the new jury panel.
Doctors pronounced Cesar Razo dead shortly after Castaneda and the boy’s mother, Maria Razo, brought the unconscious child to the Palomar Medical Center around 4:40 p.m. June 25, 2005. Cesar Razo had approximately 354 external marks on his body. He died from two blows to his body, one to his abdomen and the other to the back of his head.
Because Castaneda was convicted of murder in the first degree with the special circumstance of torture, he will be spending the rest of his life behind bars without the possibility of parole when he’s sentenced Aug. 1, Weismantel said.
Castaneda, of Guatemala, was also convicted of a single felony count each of assaulting a child under the age of 8 that resulted in death, torture, child abuse with the allegation of great bodily injury — all charges related to Cesar Razo. Additionally, the jury convicted him of misdemeanor child abuse relating to Cesar Razo’s sister, who was 5 at the time of his death.
Maria Razo, 27, pleaded guilty in 2007 to voluntary manslaughter and two counts of child abuse. Maria Razo’s sentencing, at which time she’ll receive 16 years and eight months in prison, is scheduled for Aug. 21. Additionally, under her plea agreement, after her prison term Maria Razo will be deported back to Mexico and will have three strikes on her criminal record.

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