LAS VEGAS (CN) - Murderer William Castillo dodged lethal injection in Nevada once for murdering a sleeping grandmother and might again after a federal judge only partly dismissed his habeas corpus petition.
Castillo had eaten his last meal, a cheeseburger, and was 90 minutes away from death by lethal injection when the Nevada Supreme Court stopped it in October 2007.
Eight of the 62 pages in U.S. District Judge Robert Jones's March 2 order rehearse Castillo's appeals since that brush with death. In his second amended petition for habeas corpus, of May 19, 2014, "the operative petition in this case," Castillo alleged 20 civil rights violations, by his attorney, the prosecutor and judge, including errors in all trial phases, including sentencing.
Prosecutors sought dismissal, saying Castillo's claims are barred by the statute of limitations and the procedural default doctrine, are not cognizable, and are unexhausted. Castillo challenged the motion to dismiss, asked for an evidentiary hearing and on June 23, 2015 filed a motion for discovery.
Judge Jones dismissed most of Castillo's petition and denied his motions for an evidentiary hearing and discovery on March 2.
He dismissed all claims based on ineffective counsel during post-conviction hearings and alleged violations of the international covenant on civil and political rights. International covenants and law do not apply in U.S. courts, Jones said.
Jones gave prosecutors 90 days to address Castillo's remaining claims: the introduction of a photograph of the victim and her granddaughter; whether Nevada's deadly weapon enhancement statute is vague or overly broad; and whether trial errors or instructions affected the jury's support for the death penalty.
Castillo was sentenced to death for the 1995 murder of retired schoolteacher Isabelle Berndt, 86. Castillo was part of a work crew that repaired Berndt's roof in November, when he found a key to her home and returned on the evening on Dec. 16, 1995 to rob her.
Castillo struck Berndt with a tire iron and smothered her while she slept and stole her VCR, a box of silverware, some Christmas booties she was knitting for her grandchildren, and eight $50 U.S. savings bonds. He and an accomplice returned early in the morning and set her home on fire and get rid of evidence.
A jury in September 1996 found Castillo guilty of first-degree murder, arson, robbery, burglary and conspiracy, and sentenced him to death. Factoring into the death penalty verdict were that Castillo killed Berndt to avoid being caught, committed murder while committing a burglary and robbery, and his history of criminal violence, including six charges of arson, and a previous charge of attempted murder.
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