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Testimony resumes in murder trial

JACKSON -- After a break in the proceedings for the weekend and a federal holiday, former Emmet County Sheriff Larry Lamack took the stand when trial proceedings resumed during the fifth day of testimony in Jackson County District Court Tuesday afternoon.

Lamack was the 24th witness to testify in the state's case against Juan Humberto Castillo-Alvarez, who is accused of ordering the beating and murder of 15-year-old Gregory Sky Erickson, who was shot to death in 1997.

Erickson, who lived in Estherville, Iowa, was kidnapped from the home of a friend in Spencer, Iowa. He allegedly owed money to drug dealers and had previously given information to authorities about drug activity in exchange for having his own drug charges dropped.

Lamack stated he knew of Castillo-Alvarez in 1997 because of several drug buys his department had made during an investigation into illegal activities. He also helped with the search warrants executed at Castillo-Alvarez's restaurant after Erickson's murder.

Before the murder, Lamack knew Castillo-Alvarez as Ricardo Castillo.

During the first search of the restaurant, Lamack said, authorities were looking for drugs, cash and firearms, but nothing was found. After speaking with another person implicated in Erickson's death, law enforcement returned to the restaurant for a second search.

"We went to the (Castillo-Alvarez) residence first and asked him for a key," Lamack stated. "We asked if there were guns at the restaurant and he said there was not."

Castillo-Alvarez gave them a key, and authorities left to search. That was the last time Lamack saw Castillo-Alvarez until his arrest years later.

The second search began in the basement, Lamack said. While he was waiting for flood lights to arrive to brighten the lower level, he looked up and noticed the suspended ceiling on the main level.

"I decided to take a look, so I grabbed a chair and climbed up on it," he explained to the jury. "I pushed up a tile and looked."

A few feet from his head, he saw a black handgun, he said. It was a black .22 pistol -- not the gun they were searching for as the murder weapon -- but in a second level of suspended ceiling, the Lorcin .380 handgun was discovered.

Neither one of the weapons had a round in the chamber, but both guns had ammunition clips.

Senior Special Agent Paul Soppeland of the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA) also testified Tuesday, walking the jury through his actions the first few days after Erickson's body was discovered in the basement of an abandoned farmhouse in Jackson County that June.

As the case agent, Soppeland was responsible for coordinating the evidence discovered at the murder scene.

He told the jury that autopsy information showed Erickson had been shot twice and two rounds had been found inside the body, but only one shell casing had been found at the scene.

In March 1998, after receiving information from another person implicated in the murder, Soppeland and some other agents went back to the farmhouse.

In the dirt floor of the basement under a rock, Soppeland found a .380 shell casing.

Earlier in the investigation, Soppeland also went with a person of interest, Ben Alden, who showed him where a Walther 9 millimeter handgun had been buried in a wooded area after the murder.

Another gun that was thrown into a river was not recovered, he said.

The trial, which continues today, is scheduled to take up the court calendar for the remainder of the week.

The state is expected to rest its case and turn the proceedings over to the defense on Thursday.

Whether or not Castillo-Alvarez will take the stand in his own defense is unknown, but unlikely.

The jury could go into deliberation on the aiding and abetting of second-degree murder and kidnapping charges by Thursday afternoon.

In connection with Erickson's death, Castillo-Alvarez was convicted of second-degree murder, kidnapping and conspiracy to commit a felony in Clay County, Iowa in 2008. That conviction was later overturned by an appellate court, which cited violations of speedy trial rights.

Castillo-Alvarez allegedly began his flight to Mexico while the second search was being executed.

Nine other people, most in their teens or early 20s, pleaded or were found guilty for their roles in Erickson's kidnapping and death.