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State expects to rest case today in murder trial

JACKSON -- Minnesota Assistant Attorney General Matthew Frank is scheduled to put one more witness on the stand this morning before the state rests its case against Juan Humberto Castillo-Alvarez, who is accused of ordering the beating and murder of Estherville, Iowa, teenager Gregory Sky Erickson in June of 1997.

The murder, the state is trying to prove, was ordered by Castillo-Alvarez because of Erickson's drug debts and to stop him from talking to authorities.

The Jackson County District Courthouse has been a beehive of activity since the beginning of the month with jurors, attorneys and witnesses filling the third floor courtroom.

The jury has listened to testimony from law enforcement officials, special agents, Erickson's parents and even from those who have pleaded guilty or been convicted for their role in the teen's death.

Numerous exhibits, including photographs of Erickson's body as it was found in the rural Jackson County farmhouse, have been displayed and discussed throughout the proceedings.

Wednesday's testimony consisted of personnel from the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, primarily forensic scientists who performed laboratory tests on evidence from the crime scenes.

James Dougherty, the crime scene team leader in 1997, said his crew was in Jackson County by 5:15 p.m. on the day the body was discovered -- over a week after Erickson was kidnapped from a friend's apartment in Spencer, Iowa.

Discovered in the basement of an abandoned farmhouse by a local farmer and his brother, Erickson's body was partially burned and had begun to decompose when Dougherty and his team arrived to collect evidence from the scene.

According to testimony heard earlier in the trial, after Erickson was taken from Spencer, he was brought to a state park in Iowa and beaten, then put in the trunk of a car and driven to the farm in Minnesota, where he was killed.

Later, the man who fired the fatal shot and an accomplice went back to the farmhouse, poured gasoline around the house and on the body and started a fire in an attempt to conceal Erickson's identity.

Dougherty said one spent bullet casing of a .380 caliber was discovered at the scene by his team, but other evidence, such as ash and debris, was collected as well.

The team was at the Jackson County scene for about five hours, he stated.

Kurt Moline, another BCA forensic scientist who specializes in firearms and tool marks, told the jury that the Lorcin .380 handgun recovered from its hiding place in a suspended ceiling at Castillo-Alvarez's restaurant in Estherville was the weapon that fired one of the two bullets found in Erickson's body.

Tests done on a second bullet were inconclusive, Moline said, because of the damage to the bullet.

The shell casing found in the basement by the body was also from the same gun, he added, as was the second casing found later.

Frank questioned Moline extensively about his methods and equipment used to determine if a particular gun had shot a particular bullet.

During cross-examination by defense attorney Louis Kuchera, Moline reiterated that marks found on a casing could be individual to one gun.

When Kuchera expressed disbelief that no other Lorcin .380 could have made the same pattern of marks, Moline's answer was emphatic.

"This is the Lorcin pistol that fired (the cartridge)," he stated. "No other gun could have made those marks."

Moline was also able, he said, to polish and etch the gun's serial number until it was legible.

The serial number had been filed off, according to an earlier witness, by drug dealer Luis Lua after he stole it from a gun show.

After he stole it, the witness said last week, Lua turned the gun over to Castillo-Alvarez and later ordered and purchased a clip for the gun from a local archery store.

A receipt for a .380 clip from the same store was seized during a search at Castillo-Alvarez's residence before the murder took place.

After the state rests, Kuchera will present his client's defense. Closing arguments are possible by Thursday afternoon.