By Andy Furillo
A judge today sentenced a Sacramento man to the four months in jail that the man had already served for the shooting to death of a parolee who confronted him in the front yard of his Oak Park home last year amid a heated neighborhood dispute.
James Sanchez Castillo, 31, faced up to a year in county jail as a result of his no-contest plea to a manslaughter charge in the April 24, 2009, killing of Leopoldo Velasco III, 23, in the 3900 block of 17th Avenue.
Castillo had initially been charged with murder in the case.
Prosecutors, however, allowed him to enter the no-contest plea to manslaughter based on evidence provided by the defendant's lawyer that Velasco ran up on Castillo "and started a loud and angry argument, pushed him several times and threatened to kill him," according to defense attorney Karol Martin Repkow's court papers.
A window washer with three kids he was raising on a monthly income of $1,200 a month, Castillo was carrying a handgun to protect his house after a week of confrontations that had pitted his wife against Velasco's girlfriend, who lived next door. Castillo shot Velasco three times.
Sacramento Superior Court Judge Maryanne G. Gilliard agreed from the bench today that the case included a major slice of self defense.
"In America, you still have the right to defend yourself on your own property," Gilliard said.
She sentenced Castillo to five years probation, six months in county jail (of which he had served four months, and the remainder of which will be applied in good-time credits) and restitution that included $7,500 to cover the victim's funeral.
The judge said Castillo has been "respectful" and "remorseful" during the course of the case. She said it was a killing "that never should have happened" and blamed Castillo's wife and Velasco's girlfriend for the dispute that led to the fatal shooting.
During the sentencing hearing, Castillo turned around from the defense table and said to Velasco's mother, Susie Ames: "I'd just like to say sorry to the family. I'm sorry this happened."
Ames said she accepted the apology but that "forgiveness is from God."
In a letter to the court last month, Ames said that Castillo "brutally murdered my son."
"Now we are told they are giving him a plea bargain!" Ames wrote. "I don't understand how a life of a human being is not worth more than a matter of months in county jail. Where is the justice?"
Velasco's record showed that he had done prison time for car theft and felony evasion of police officers. His record also shows misdemeanor convictions for battery, possession of methamphetamine, resisting arrest, car theft, drunk driving and carrying a concealed weapon.
His sister, Rosalina, who witnessed her brother's shooting death, said in a letter to the court that the shooting was "no self defense" but instead was "murder."
In her motion filed earlier in the trial to have her client released on bail, defense attorney Repkow said that Velasco shouted at Castillo: "I'll kill you!"
Repkow's motion said that Velasco's friends pulled him away from Castillo, but that he broke free and ran towards him again. She said Velasco reached into his pocket and that Castillo drew his pistol and fired first because he thought he was about to be killed.
The violence between Castillo's family and Velasco's girlfriend began a week earlier. According to Repkow's court papers, Velasco's girlfriend, Geneva Ram, hit Castillo's wife, Rosie, in the face with a wrench. The dispute erupted over Geneva Ram's driving in the street and Rosie Castillo telling her to slow down.
Tension built over the next seven days until the two women got into another argument the night of the fatal shooting and Geneva Ram pulled a knife on Rosie Castillo, Repkow's paper show.
Castillo's wife then left their house with their three children, with Castillo staying behind to protect the residence from the neighbors, according to Repkow's papers.
Castillo's record shows previous drunk driving and resisting arrest convictions.
His lawyer gave the court 17 letters of reference on his behalf, from former employers as well as relatives, friends and people who knew him as a youth football coach.
David Reppas, a former employer of Castillo's in a window-cleaning business, called him "an exemplary employee who was trustworthy, dependable and exemplified a strong work ethic."
"Time after time, James received positive comments from customers he serviced, and even now, customers he serviced last year are requesting him again this year," Reppas wrote.
Dierdre Walsh, the president of the Sacramento Jr. Falcons youth football club, said that Castillo "is a quiet, genuine, well-respected family man."
Call The Bee's Andy Furillo, (916) 321-1141.