Monday, April 12, 2010 | 10:13 p.m.
Scars mar Sandra Lisset Castro’s cheekbones. Her right eye doesn’t close the way it should, but even if it did, it couldn’t blink away her tears.
As she slowly walked to the witness stand Monday to testify against the man accused of brutally chopping her face with a medieval-style battle ax and murdering her infant son, she gripped her husband, Carlos, with one hand. She held a rosary in the other.
A gauzy white scarf hid some of the physical damage on her head and face, but the emotional trauma was visible as she described how she lost her son and nearly lost her own life.
“I just know I was (struck) in my face,” she said, tearfully, through a translator. “His image has been in me … Since the moment I’ve been in the hospital, I haven’t been able to get it away from me.”
She was walking to a grocery store, pushing her 4-month-old son, Damian, in his stroller, when out of nowhere she was hit in the face, she said. Blow after blow, she begged her attacker to stop. All he did was laugh.
“He was laughing and mocking me, and continued striking me. That’s all I remember,” she said in halted Spanish. Her pleas to her attacker were in English, she said.
Castro’s testimony came as part of a preliminary hearing Monday in the case against 33-year-old Harold Montague, who police say attacked the young mother and her child at random in broad daylight Feb. 11 near Sahara Avenue and South Maryland Parkway.
Police found Damian dead on the street in the 1600 block of San Pedro Avenue with his stroller flipped onto its side. His head was split open.
The hearing was continued until Thursday so prosecutors can present more witnesses. An examiner from the Clark County coroner’s office is expected to testify.
At the conclusion of the hearing, Las Vegas Justice of the Peace Melanie Andress-Tobiasson will decide if there is enough evidence to bind the case to district court.
As Castro testified, Andress-Tobiasson and Chief Deputy District Attorney Robert Daskas helped Castro, a petite woman about 5-feet tall, stand up so she could identify her attacker.
She scanned the courtroom and her gaze fixated on Montague. She raised her arm and, with a trembling finger, pointed at him.
Montague’s attorneys and Andress-Tobiasson had agreed to a request from prosecutors to allow Castro’s husband to sit on the stand with her so she could hold his hand. She thumbed the rosary throughout the hearing.
During one of her numerous surgeries after the attack, doctors implanted a feeding tube. A blow to her jaw disconnected it and her mouth had to be wired shut for several weeks.
Montague also is accused of attacking his disabled sister-in-law, Monica O’Dazier, by stabbing her more than 20 times with the pointed end of the ax. She was injured on her thighs and buttocks but was released from the hospital shortly after the attack.
He’s facing charges of murder, attempted murder and battery on a police officer.
Throughout Monday’s hearing, Montague sat shackled, between his two attorneys, mostly staring at the table in front of him.
Teresa Garner lives with her mother across the street from the Montague home, where Harold Montague lived with his wife, Erricca, their three children and O’Dazier.
Garner testified Monday that she still has nightmares about the day of the attack. Looking out her bedroom window, she saw a man beating a woman with what she thought was a golf club and she sprang into action, she said. She grabbed the phone and rushed to the gate in her yard.
But once she got outside, she saw it wasn’t a golf club in his hand. She yelled at him to stop.
“He reared up and looked at me and I could see pure evil in his eyes,” she said. Prosecutors played a recording of the 911 call Garner made.
She is heard describing what she sees and gives the dispatcher details of the attack, wailing “oh my God, oh my God,” and pleading for police to get their faster.
“I saw the baby lying on the street, dead. The mother’s face was gone … she had no face and jawbone,” Garner testified, crying.
She said the baby’s “head was split open on the back from ear-to-ear and its brains were spilling out.”
After the attack she suffered a nervous breakdown and spent a week in a psychiatric unit trying to cope with the trauma, she told the judge. Despite her best efforts, she can’t forget what she saw that day.
“Every second is burned into my brain,” she said.
Metro Police Officer David Cienega was the first officer at the scene. He thought Castro was dead and began blocking off the crime scene, but then he saw the woman sit up.
“It looked as if someone had poured a bucket of blood on her,” he said.
Moments later, he saw Montague come out of a house and charge toward the victims and the officer, he testified.
Cienega, armed with a non-lethal shotgun, ran toward him to head him off.
Montague reached for the officer’s gun and a struggle ensued. Cienega struck Montague across the face with the shotgun. He testified Montague was making strange noises during the struggle.
“This is God’s will,” Cienega said Montague told him.
Harold and Erricca Montague met in Texas while in kindergarten. They began dating in 1991 and married in 2005 in Las Vegas. They have three children.
Erricca Montague was at work the day of the alleged attack. She testified she got a call that paramedics were at her house and she should go home. When she got there, an officer took her into his car and asked her questions about her husband.
She testified she told the officer that her husband recently hadn’t been sleeping. He also hadn’t been eating normally.
He was paid by an agency to take care of her sister, who suffers from cerebral palsy, mental retardation and a seizure disorder. In addition to not eating or sleeping normally, he hadn’t been taking as diligent care of her sister as he should have been, she said.
But although her husband had been acting odd, nothing was so out of place that she thought twice about leaving him in charge of her children and sister that morning, she testified.
He was “absolutely not” capable of any sort of violence, she testified.
Her husband never drank and the only drug he ever had used was marijuana, she said. He hated pills and avoided taking sleep aids.
Although his attorneys had previously said Montague’s mental competency might be at issue, he hasn’t been sent to mental health court.
At a hearing in March, Deputy Public Defender Norm Reed had asked for an extension so he could be certain his client understood the proceedings, saying Montague suffered from paranoia and delusions.
After the preliminary hearing, prosecutors will review the case to determine if they will pursue the death penalty, which is policy in the district attorney’s office.
The case has at least one aggravating circumstance – the death of a child under 14 years old – that could lead the district attorney’s office to consider the death penalty, Chief Deputy District Attorney Giancarlo Pesci said. The alleged attack on his sister-in-law could also be presented to jurors as an aggravator.
In Nevada, jurors weigh aggravating circumstances against mitigating circumstances when deliberating in death penalty cases.
Montague is being held without bail in the Clark County Detention Center.