Wednesday, Sept. 25, 1996 | 11:59 a.m.
District Attorney Stewart Bell told a jury that the thought of life in prison with no hope of parole doesn't intimidate William "Billy" Castillo.
The jury that convicted Castillo earlier this month continued deliberations today into his fate for the brutal beating death of 86-year-old retired schoolteacher Isabelle Berndt in her home on Dec. 17.
The choice for the jury in District Judge Bill Maupin's courtroom is death by lethal injection or life in prison with or without the possibility of parole.
Castillo was found guilty of breaking into the elderly woman's home -- using a key he discovered while working on a roofing job there -- and beating her to death as she slept.
Her belongings were stolen and the home at 13 N. Yale St., near Western High School, was partially burned in an effort to destroy the evidence of guilt.
Bell noted during closing arguments Tuesday that the 23-year-old defendant had been released from his second prison term only seven months before the slaying.
The prosecutor said that Castillo told a psychiatrist he had been "perfectly happy" in prison and Bell cautioned the jury not to throw the killer into the "briar patch of prison" where he wants to go.
"Do not compromise," Bell told the jury. "Impose the only real punishment ... that has any meaning to William Castillo -- death."
Defense attorneys David Schieck and Peter LaPorta asked that the sentence be life in prison, citing Castillo's youthfulness and a difficult childhood that resulted in his early involvement with the juvenile justice system.
"The die was cast when he was 5 or 6 years old," LaPorta said.
Schieck said Castillo "never had a childhood" and was "on a laser beam he couldn't get off of."
In an unsworn statement as the penalty hearing's last witness, Castillo admitted "I've done something very horrible."
He read to the jury a letter he had written to Berndt's family apologizing for the slaying while admitting that he knows it "in no way makes it better."
"Only God and myself know the turmoil I feel inside," Castillo said.
But Deputy District Attorney Mel Harmon said the killing was "a case of sinister simplicity" because Castillo didn't want to be identified by his victim as a thief.
Harmon chastised the killer for attacking the "helpless, unarmed 86-year-old woman who was 5 foot 2."
"He committed a murder he didn't have to perpetrate," the prosecutor said. "It was done gratuitously with premeditation."
Harmon noted that Castillo had a violent history during his years behind bars and on those occasions when he was free.