An Indio man convicted of second-degree murder for fatally beating his mother and leaving her in a closet was sentenced Friday to 15 years to life in prison, dashing the hopes of family members who contend that he has the mental capacity of a child and asked that he be granted probation and released into their care.
Daniel Castro, 34, was convicted by a jury last year for killing 51-year- old Ofelia Guzman on Jan. 31, 2011, in their home after she woke him up to go to work.
The jury acquitted Castro of a first-degree murder charge, but agreed with a prosecutor's assertion that Castro was aware of the danger to his mother's life when he attacked her, and found him guilty of murder in the second degree.
Castro, who was twice previously committed to Patton State Hospital, became angry over his mother's repeated attempts to wake him and punched a hole in the wall of his bedroom, which prompted her to tell him he had to move out, Deputy District Attorney Joshua Hill said. They argued, and Castro kicked and beat his mother, leaving her unconscious and bleeding in his bedroom closet, the prosecutor said.
Castro then went to the car wash where he worked, but left the job site and never returned, according to Hill, who said Castro got onto a bus and spent the remainder of the day hanging out with friends.
Castro's relatives contend that the attack was an aberration, that Castro has always been nonviolent, and that he should never have been declared competent to stand trial.
Mitchell Steinman, the defendant's brother-in-law, told Riverside County Superior Court Judge Anthony R. Villalobos that said Castro doesn't truly grasp the gravity of his situation.
"He didn't try to kill her. This guy is a puppy," Steinman said.
The attack was "as isolated as isolated gets," he said. "To me, it was like a 12-year-old getting mad, throwing punches, losing his fragile mind."
But Riverside County Superior Court Judge Anthony R. Villalobos ruled that probation was not a suitable punishment, saying he had to take protecting the family and society at large into account.
The judge also said Castro could have notified medical personnel of what happened after leaving the house, but did not.
His sisters did not attend the sentencing, but both maintained at a hearing earlier this year that Castro would not endanger them or anyone else and that a prison stay would be, in effect, a death sentence.
"I was saddened by the jury's verdict because I believe in my heart that Daniel would never try to kill our mother. There is just no way," Heidi Mercado-Anaya told the court then.
"His actions that morning were not planned. I would even say that they weren't even his actions," Mercado-Anaya said. "Daniel is a grown man physically, but not mentally, and the thought of him in prison is beyond scary to me."
Castro's other sister, Maritza, who found the victim's body, spoke through tears at the earlier hearing.
"While my brother is responsible for our mother's death, I do not, nor have I ever felt that he murdered my mother," she said. "There's no justice here. There's no justice for my mother and there's no justice for my brother. There is no justice for my family."
Family members said they took solace in the fact that Castro did accumulate more than six years credit for time served as he awaited trial and sentencing.
"Best of luck to you, sir," Villalobos told the defendant after handing down the sentence. "I hope you get whatever help you need."
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