ESCONDIDO — A North County jury convicted a young man June 30 of charges relating to the torture and death of his girlfriend’s toddler son, which will now send the case into a death penalty phase.
Jose Maurice Castaneda, 24, was found guilty of murdering 2-year-old Cesar Razo in the first-degree with the special circumstance allegation that the boy’s death was the result of torture. Because the jury found true the special circumstance, Castaneda’s case will now enter the penalty phase, which will task the jury with determining if Castaneda should be executed.
Castaneda, of Guatemala, and the boy’s mother, Maria Razo, 27, took an unconscious Cesar Razo to the Palomar Medical Center around 4:40 p.m. June 25, 2005, telling the staff the toddler fell from a playground swing set. Doctors pronounced Cesar Razo dead a short time later.
An examination of Cesar Razo found approximately 354 external marks on the boy’s body, including his genitals. Additionally, he lost a cup of blood, his bowel was lacerated and he suffered from internal bleeding. According to the autopsy report, Cesar Razo died of a blow to his abdomen and the back of his head.
The boy’s sister, who was 5 at the time, testified Castaneda beat, punched and slammed her brother against a bedroom wall during an approximately 30-minute attack because Cesar Razo wouldn’t stop crying.
In addition to the charges stemming from Cesar Razo’s death, Castaneda was also charged with felony child abuse and torture. The jury acquitted Castaneda of torturing Cesar Razo’s sister; however, they found him guilty of a lesser include charge of misdemeanor child abuse.
Additionally, Castaneda was 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 related to Cesar Razo.
As Deputy District Attorney Lucy Weismantel started her closing argument around 1:50 p.m. June 25, she made sure to remind the panel that it was four years ago to the day of Cesar Razo’s tragic death.
The prosecutor said Castaneda suffered from dual personalities. On one hand he was a friend, father and all around nice person and on the other he was a lying, sadistic murderer.
“When things don’t go his way he turns to evil,” Weismantel said.
To prove Castaneda inflicted torture on the young boy, Weismantel highlighted evidence like testimony that Castaneda made Cesar Razo sleep in the family’s bedroom closet, three home videos, one of which shows the defendant documenting the toddler’s injuries, and his “torture tools,” a cable cord and broken plastic hanger, which the prosecutor said he used to inflict injuries on the boy.
“This man enjoyed torturing this little boy and was fixated on him,” Weismantel said.
Castaneda’s attorney, Allen Bloom, told jurors Cesar Razo’s death was a “function of rage … some sort of monstrous explosion.”
Bloom pointed toward Maria Razo citing Castaneda had been at work until around 12:30 p.m. that day. While we may never know exactly what happened, Bloom said he believed Maria Razo’s deep depression and family background, one of corporal punishment, may account for the explosion she unleashed on her son.
However, Bloom was quick to point out to the jurors that their job wasn’t to determine who killed Cesar Razo, but rather if Castaneda committed the crimes.
Bloom portrayed Castaneda as a kind, caring man who just prior to meeting Maria Razo had been in a relationship with another woman who had children approximately the same age as Maria Razo’s; however, no physical or mental abuse was ever reported.
“The evidence in the case points powerfully towards Maria and away from Jose,” Bloom said.
Maria Razo pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter and two counts of felony child abuse with the allegation that she inflicted great bodily injury in 2007. Under her agreement, she will be sentenced Aug. 21 to 16 years and eight months in prison. Additionally, she will have three strikes and will be deported back to Mexico.
Both Castaneda and Maria Razo were found to be living illegally in the United States. The couple had been dating less than a year at the time of Cesar Razo’s death. They had lived together with another family in an apartment on Bear Valley Parkway in Escondido.
Weismantel called Maria Razo a weak, dependent single mother, who had been abused by Castaneda. She has accepted responsibility for not protecting her children from Castaneda and when she’s released will have “paid her price,” the prosecutor said.
The last case a North County jury considered for the death penalty was in 2005, in which the panel ultimately recommended the execution of Adrian Camacho who was convicted of the 2003 slaying of Oceanside police Officer Tony Zeppetella.
The death penalty phase, which began July 1, is expected to last a week.