A twice-convicted armed robber now accused of killing his wife could be the first Ventura County resident prosecuted under the state's new "three strikes and you're out" law, the district attorney's office said Tuesday.
Jose Castaneda, 25, of Oxnard is charged with murder in the April 2 death of his wife, Mina Castaneda, also 25.
Another candidate to become Ventura County's first "three strikes" felon, prosecutors said, is Henry Diaz, 40, of Simi Valley. He faces 10 felony counts of child molestation after police said they raided his Sitka Avenue home last month and found him in bed with a 13-year-old girl. Diaz, who is on parole, has three prior felony robbery convictions.
"I can say that those two cases are under consideration. They appear to meet the criteria for three strikes," Chief Assistant Dist. Atty. Colleen Toy White said.
Meanwhile, the district attorney's office decided Tuesday not to use the new law against Preston A. Shelton--an Oxnard man who was charged with cultivating marijuana plants, a felony, only hours after Gov. Pete Wilson signed the legislation.
If convicted under the law, defendants face a mandatory sentence of 25 years to life. The statute prescribes such a sentence for anyone with two prior serious or violent felony convictions who commits a third felony.
Initially, prosecutors had indicated that Shelton might be charged under three strikes. Shelton had served more than 10 years for a series of eight robberies in Los Angeles County before being released eight months ago, his attorney said.
After prosecutors announced that they would not charge him under the three-strikes law, Shelton pleaded guilty to one count of marijuana cultivation in Superior Court.
"We decided that he didn't fit under three strikes," said Deputy Dist. Atty. Gary K. Barrett, adding that Shelton's latest crime had been initiated before Wilson signed the three-strikes legislation.
"He was arrested a few hours after the law went into effect," Barrett said. "That's why we looked at it as a three-strikes case. Obviously, (Shelton) planted marijuana that had germinated and grown for a month."
Prosecutors, however, did add an allegation to the cultivation charge that said Shelton committed the offense while on parole. It requires that he serve prison time for Tuesday's guilty plea, Barrett said.
Superior Court Judge Charles R. McGrath indicated he would sentence Shelton to 28 months for his guilty plea and violation of parole, which is the lowest term possible.
Deputy Public Defender Bryant Villagran, Shelton's attorney, said his client is pleased that he is not facing a sentence of 25 years to life. He also said Shelton picked up marijuana-cultivation tips from a magazine.
"There are probably a thousand people in this county doing the same thing," Villagran said. "But when you are on parole, you just can't afford to do it."
"It's very tough to have spent the last 10 2/3 years of your life in a terrible and frightening environment," Villagran said. "You just can't expect a person to come out and adjust. If this is the worst that he does, he's doing better than most other people in his situation."
In the cases of Diaz and Castaneda, prosecutors will announce whether they will charge the men with three strikes at their Superior Court arraignments, White said.
Both men are being held at the Ventura County Jail. Because they are charged with crimes while on parole, they are not eligible for bail. Dates for their arraignments in Superior Court have not been set.
Members of the Simi Valley police SWAT team and narcotics detectives raided Diaz's home about 7 a.m. on March 22 after his parole officer reported possible violations.
Police found the suspect in bed with the girl. After reviewing reports in the case, the district attorney's office filed the 10 counts of child molestation against Diaz, who also has been convicted of narcotics violations, police said.
In addition to murder, Castaneda faces a charge of unlawful possession of a firearm in connection with his wife's slaying. Mina Castaneda of Oxnard died after being shot in the head during an argument with the defendant, police said. She attended Oxnard College and had dreams of becoming a teacher.