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San Antonio jury hands killer 75 years for friend’s murder

mySA logo mySA 3/9/2019 By Elizabeth Zavala, Staff writer

a woman talking on a cell phone: Baby Vasquez, right, is comforted by her mother, Ofelia Martinez as she leaves the courtroom following closing arguments Friday in the murder trial of Jesse Ray Castilla. Castilla is accused of killing Vasquez's boyfriend, Joseph Camarena, on Nov. 17, 2017, and stuffing the body in a barrel.

Baby Vasquez, right, is comforted by her mother, Ofelia Martinez as she leaves the courtroom following closing arguments Friday in the murder trial of Jesse Ray Castilla. Castilla is accused of killing Vasquez's boyfriend, Joseph Camarena, on Nov. 17, 2017, and stuffing the body in a barrel.

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A San Antonio man convicted of killing a friend and stuffing his body in a barrel was sentenced to 75 years in prison Friday.

It took a jury a little less than four hours to convict Jesse Ray Castilla, 38, of murder in the death of Joseph Camarena, 26, on Nov. 17, 2017. Jurors deliberated another hour and a half later Friday afternoon to determine Castilla’s sentence.

Castilla, who has been on trial since Tuesday, could have received life in prison. With the 75-year sentence, he must serve at least 30 years behind bars before he’s eligible for parole.

Prosecutors said the killing happened over $500 that Camarena believed Castilla owed him.

San Antonio police initially received a call about a body around 9 p.m. the night of the shooting. When they arrived, they found a barrel with Camarena’s body near a turnaround east of Morsund Boulevard and Loop 410 on the South Side.

According to an arrest affidavit, Castilla gave two people a bag of methamphetamine in exchange for dropping the barrel in a river. Reports indicate that when the barrel was removed from a pickup, it fell, exposing Camarena's feet.

In their closing arguments, prosecutors Kristina Escalona and Stephanie Paulissen urged jurors to look at the evidence collected from the 300 block of Lovett Avenue on the Southwest Side as a puzzle and that when they put the pieces together, they would find that Castilla lured his friend to his garage, shot him and had all the equipment needed to cover up the crime.

“There was bleach in the garage, blood, gloves and a drop cloth,” said Paulissen. “The gloves were found right below where (bullet) shell casings were pulled.”

Defense attorneys Suzanne Kramer and Sharon Thorn called the state’s argument hypothetical because no one saw the shooting and their client’s DNA was not on the victim.

They said witness testimony established that there were many others in the home around the time Camarena died. They also said Castilla had those things in his home because of the work he did, and pointed out that most people have gloves and bleach around their homes.

“We don’t know what happened,” Kramer said. “Everyone has bleach; and if Jesse was involved in trying to dispose of the body, he probably did try to clean it up. But that doesn’t mean he is guilty of murder.”

The defense also attempted to discredit the testimony of Camarena’s girlfriend, Baby Vasquez, who told the jury the day the trial opened that when she went to the home on Lovett to find her boyfriend, she saw Castilla with a gun. The defense pointed out that no other witness saw him with a gun.

“You know other people were involved in this,” Thorn told the panel. “Use your common sense.”

On Tuesday, Vasquez testified that she called hospitals all over San Antonio in an attempt to find Camarena, whom she called Angelo, after Castilla told her he took Camerena to a hospital for a possible seizure.

A call to the Bexar County Medical Examiner’s Office, during which she was asked about tattoos, helped Vasquez determine that Camarena was dead.

In her closing argument, prosecutor Escalona said the men were friends, and Camarena “didn’t see it coming,” stating that Castilla didn’t factor in that Vasquez would come looking for her boyfriend.

“Jesse Castilla stopped her (Vasquez) — he had a gun — stopped her from going into that garage,” she said, as Vasquez began sobbing and had to be led away from the courtroom. Escalona then continued, saying that on that November day in 2017, Vazquez was sent away, “looking for a man who was about to be stuffed in a barrel.”

The case was 290th District Judge Jennifer Peña’s first murder trial.

Elizabeth Zavala covers county and state courts in San Antonio. Read her on our free site, mySA.com, and on our subscriber site, ExpressNews.com. | ezavala@express-news.net | Twitter: @elizabeth2863

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