SANTA CRUZ – Final arguments in a 4-year-old murder case began on Tuesday after a three-week hearing.
The Santa Cruz District Attorney’s office is seeking to prove a charge of first-degree murder against Miguel Castaneda, a Santa Cruz man accused of killing his former friend and neighbor, Victor Vasquez López, on Riverside Drive on April 20, 2018 in Watsonville. , 36 were arrested for allegedly shooting to death. Castaneda is also accused of assault with a shotgun when he allegedly pointed his revolver at Lopez’s car passenger to threaten him.
“Of course he hates Victor,” defense attorney Rory Bartley said during his finale. “If someone sleeps with your wife, raises a child and then tries to take that child back after three or four years… you’ll probably hate them too.”
Bartley suggested that his client may be acting in self-defense and warned jurors to look at the “straw man” arguments established and rejected by the prosecution to divert attention from more important issues.
Prosecutor Johanna Schoenfeld told the jury that the “heat of passion” was not accompanied by Castaneda’s calm demeanor in defense court and when she took a stand in her defense last week. Castaneda admitted that she murdered Lopez to police investigators and that Lopez had destroyed her life, she said.
“She herself admitted that she killed him to avenge what Victor had done to her,” Schoenfield said. “Revenge is not murder.”
Even though Castaneda believed he was acting in self-defense, Schoenfield said, there was “no justification” for his fourth and final shot to the head on Lopez’s head because the man was unarmed, wounded and on the side of the road. His cars were hit by two men near where he had fallen to the ground.
Bartley later argued, “Your rights as a human say you don’t have to wait to be killed.”
Bartley, whose job it is to create reasonable doubt in the jury’s mind, said the district attorney’s office had not proved a motive in his case, although the fact of Castaneda fatally shooting Lopez was not in question. Castaneda, he said, was building a new life for himself in Mexico and had everything to lose.
Bartley explained the discrepancies heard “often” in Castaneda’s testimony by aligning the man’s experience in killing Lopez with the trauma felt by a soldier after his first confirmed murder in the war.
“That means he doesn’t remember what happened,” Bartley said. “Because he was in the throes of passion.”
Final arguments in the case were due to conclude on Wednesday before Santa Cruz County Superior Court Judge Stephen Siegel.