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Closing arguments will be heard today in Jackson murder trial

JACKSON - After the testimony of just one witness, attorney Louis Kuchera rested his case, not putting client Juan Humberto Castillo-Alvarez on the stand in his own defense.

Castillo-Alvarez is on trial for ordering the 1997 beating and murder of 15-year-old Estherville, Iowa teenager Gregory Sky Erickson, who allegedly owed drug debts and had given information to authorities regarding illegal drug activity in the Estherville and Spencer, Iowa area. Erickson was taken from a friend's home in Spencer and taken out of town. His body was later found in an abandoned Jackson County farmhouse. He had been beaten, gagged and shot to death.

While Castillo-Alvarez was not present when Erickson was kidnapped or killed, he is accused of ordering drug dealer Luis Lua to murder the teenager. According to witness testimony earlier in the trial, Castillo-Alvarez supplied Lua and several other drug dealers in town with illegal narcotics, and allegedly gave Lua the gun used to shoot Erickson. That gun was later recovered by authorities at Castillo-Alvarez's restaurant in Estherville.

Minnesota Assistant Attorney General Matthew Frank put one final witness on the stand Thursday morning, Patricia Wojtowicz, who was working for the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA) forensic biology unit in 1997 and had processed some DNA evidence. Wojtowicz testified that blood collected off of a Lorcin .380 handgun, proven to be the murder weapon, did come from Erickson.

With her testimony, the 30th of the states' witnesses, Frank rested his case.

Judge Linda Titus then turned things over to Kuchera, who called his one witness, Sondra Ortiz. The sister of an alleged drug dealer involved in the murder, Sondra testified she knew Castillo-Alvarez and had seen him in a local bar the night Erickson was kidnapped.

"He asked me if I had seen my brother," she stated. "He seemed upset and had been crying."

Castillo-Alvarez told her, she reported to the jury, that he was "scared for her brother."

When asked if she had ever met Erickson, Ortiz admitted she had met him once.

"He looked like a little kid," she stated. "He just looked really young."

Under cross-examination, Ortiz said she had seen her brother and a few others later that night and had given her brother the message that Castillo-Alvarez was looking for him.

With that testimony, Kuchera rested his case.

The judge excused the jury until this afternoon, when closing arguments will be heard.

"You may deliberate this afternoon and into the evening," Titus informed the jury members. "Consider plans to stay late tonight."