Las Vegas Sun

September 2, 2014

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Closing the door on murder

The daughter of murdered former schoolteacher Isabelle Berndt retired in August but hasn't been able to begin her retirement until now.

It wasn't until Wednesday that Jean Marie Hosking learned that the man who had killed her mother in December -- 23-year-old William Castillo -- was given the death sentence.

"I'll never get over missing my mother, but I can close a little door now," Hosking said after Castillo was led back to jail in belly chains and shackles.

Moments before, when District Judge Bill Maupin read the jury verdict, Castillo's head slumped and tears welled in his eyes. He dabbed them quickly with a tissue, turning his head to avoid the media cameras.

The jury had deliberated more than five hours over two days before deciding that the death penalty was appropriate for the brutal beating of the 86-year-old woman as she lay in her bed.

Castillo also could have been sentenced to life in prison with or without the possibility of parole. But the jury decided that the twice convicted felon who broke into Berndt's modest home near Western High School to plunder her meager possessions didn't deserve a break.

The jury had heard during the trial that as Castillo beat his frail victim with a tire iron, her blood was splattered across the room.

Castillo and Michelle Platou, 26, had broken into Berndt's house at 13 N. Yale St. with a key the killer had discovered weeks before while working on a roofing job there.

While the jury deliberated Wednesday morning, Platou pleaded guilty to a first-degree murder charge for her role in the incident. She agreed to serve a life prison term with the possibility of parole after 20 years.

Hosking said she "didn't disagree" with Platou's plea bargain and generally praised police and prosecutors for their dedication and support.

Neither was she upset by the amount of time it took to decide in favor of the death sentence.

"They had a tough job and they did it well," Hosking said. "I'm glad they took so long."

District Attorney Stewart Bell, who personally prosecuted the case, said the jury's decision was appropriate but there was no joy in the verdict.

"Anytime we get a situation so tragic that we must seek the death penalty, we don't feel pleasure when it is returned," Bell said.

Defense attorney David Schieck said he was disappointed with the outcome but "we knew it was an uphill fight."

"With all the tragedy that happened in his life, this sort of just falls in line," Schieck said.

While Castillo's often emotional family had been in the courtroom throughout much of the trial and penalty hearing, he was alone when the sentence was read.

Schieck said Castillo's mother, Barbara Sullivan, who had admitted ignoring and mistreating her son when he was a boy, was "too emotional to be here."

During closing arguments Tuesday, prosecutors said that the only sentence Castillo feared was the death penalty.

Bell reminded the jury that Castillo told a psychiatrist he enjoyed his prior years behind bars.

Deputy District Attorney Mel Harmon talked of the tattoos -- including 36 swastikas -- covering Castillo's body that were a product of those earlier incarcerations.

One tattoo advocates "Pure hate" and another "white power."

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