Weather Forecast


More witnesses tie defendant to murder

Jackson County Courthouse

JACKSON -- Shawn Knakmuhs smirked as he told the jury he and several others stopped June 6, 1997, to buy tape and zip ties in case they needed it for "crowd control" during day three of the Juan Humberto Castillo-Alvarez trial in Jackson County District Court Thursday.

Castillo-Alvarez is charged with aiding and abetting in the second degree murder and kidnapping of Gregory Sky Erickson, who was shot in an abandoned farmhouse in Petersburg Township in 1997 after being taken from a friend's apartment in Spencer, Iowa. Castillo-Alvarez was not present for the murder, but is accused of ordering the death over a drug debt and to silence the 15-year-old boy, who had allegedly given information to authorities after being caught with drugs.

Knakmuhs, who has been referred to in the first few days of the trial as the "muscle" behind drug dealer Aurelio Ortiz, served 13 years in prison in conjunction with his part in Erickson's death. Not long after he got out, he was sent back to prison after violating the terms of his supervised release.

He testified Thursday he also knew Luis Lua, another drug dealer, and had gone with him several times to the home of Castillo-Alvarez to get drugs -- both marijuana and cocaine. He met Erickson, he said, through Lua, and knew Lua was upset because Castillo-Alvarez wanted his money from the marijuana he had fronted to Erickson and was putting pressure on Lua to get it.

Knakmuhs was present when Ortiz gave Erickson $500 to buy methamphetamine and told him he had a few days to get it, he said. He went along a few days later to collect money and dope from Erickson at an apartment in Spencer. Erickson gave them some of the drugs, and Knakmuhs took a $50 bill from the teenager.

"Why?" asked Minnesota Assistant Attorney General Matthew Frank.

"Just because," Knakmuhs said, shrugging his shoulders on the stand.

He later admitted with no hesitation that he threatened Erickson, but couldn't remember exactly what he said.

Knakmuhs identified for the jury the Lorcin .380 handgun Lua had brought to Ortiz's apartment the next day. Lua had told him, he stated, that he got the gun from Castillo-Alvarez. Under questioning from Frank, Knakmuhs said he and one other had wiped the Lorcin and some other handguns down for prints and had loaded them.

When they left in two vehicles to head back to Erickson's friend's apartment, Knakmuhs said he had a 9 millimeter pistol in his possession.

The plan was to confront Erickson, and the guns were "just in case we had a problem with (the friend's brother) or anyone else."

The questioning of Knakmuhs and cross-examination by defense attorney Louis Kuchera will continue today.

Also testifying Thursday was Erickson's friend, Eric Sebasta, who struggled to hold back tears while describing the day Erickson was beaten and taken from his apartment.

At times he was confused about who was in what room during the time the group of young men was in his apartment on June 6, 1997.

"I've spent 13 years trying to forget," he said.

He met Erickson through his girlfriend and said at first they used drugs together and later sold drugs together. Eventually, Sebasta said, Erickson's meth habit became a problem and Sebasta became upset.

"He ripped off a bunch of my friends," Sebasta stated.

When Erickson arrived at his apartment June 5, 1997, Sebasta got mad and left, leaving Erickson behind. When he returned, Ortiz and some others were just coming down the stairs from his residence.

The following day, he testified, Ben Alden arrived first and said a bunch of guys were about to show up with guns.

They were looking for Erickson.

"(Lua) was screaming and yelling and said 'the man' had put a price on his head," he stated about the people that arrived next. "They were armed and I was scared. (Knakmuhs) started talking about torturing him."

Keeping Sebasta's girlfriend at the apartment, the men sent Sebasta to a golf course with Alden to locate Erickson.

The teenager didn't come back with Sebasta, but arrived a short time later.

Sebasta then described to the jury how Knakmuhs, Ortiz and Lua had terrorized Erickson, dry-firing guns at his head, shoving and hitting him and threatening him.

When they left with Erickson, Sebasta said, they led him out by his hat.

"He could barely walk -- his legs were shaking so hard," Sebasta said. "Lua told me they were going to see 'the man' and (Erickson) would be lucky if he lived."

Another witness who testified Thursday was Gabriel Utrera Cadillo, a man who had for several months shared a jail cell with Castillo-Alvarez in 2007.

He said Castillo-Alvarez had told him he had given orders to have a Caucasian youngster beaten and killed because of a drug debt and because he knew about his drug business.

Cadillo turned the information over to a jailer, he said, because selling drugs to children and shooting a child was serious.

Kuchera questioned the timing of his willingness to give up Castillo-Alvarez in conjunction with the timing of a plea agreement Cadillo was planning to make to burglary charges, and also his unwillingness to go back to Mexico.

As an illegal immigrant, Cadillo is in Immigrations Customs Enforcement (ICE) custody because of his own brushes with the law involving drunk driving charges, the jury learned through questioning.

Facing deportment, he said he is afraid to return to Mexico because he believes Castillo-Alvarez's people will hurt him. He said some of them have already been following him.

"I don't want what happened to that white kid to happen to me," he stated. "These people are willing to murder."