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VENTURA COUNTY NEWS

Grand Jury Indicts Man in Killing of Storekeeper

Court: The action means the case against Jose Castillo, charged with murdering a young mother, can proceed directly to trial.

July 20, 1999|TRACY WILSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Ventura County Grand Jury indicted a 21-year-old Santa Paula man Monday on charges of murder, attempted robbery and burglary in the June 2, 1998, slaying of Santa Paula store clerk Mirna Regollar.

Authorities say Jose "Pepe" Castillo, described as a Santa Paula gang member, was one of two men who fired on Regollar during what authorities described as a botched robbery attempt at her family's Oak Street market. The 25-year-old mother of two was shot in the head and back.

When prosecutors charged Castillo with the same crimes three months ago, he pleaded not guilty.

Taking the case to the grand jury allows the prosecution to proceed directly to trial, rather than holding a preliminary hearing, in which the defense could cross-examine and call its own witnesses.

A preliminary hearing had been set for Aug. 16 in Ventura County Superior Court. But that proceeding will probably be canceled Wednesday, when Castillo is arraigned on the charges in the indictment.

In addition to the three charges, the grand jury handed down two special-circumstance allegations against Castillo that make him eligible for the death penalty.

Those allegations are that he killed Regollar during the commission of a robbery and burglary. He is also accused of using a firearm during those alleged crimes.

Prosecutors have not decided whether they will seek the death penalty against Castillo, but indicated in a statement released late Monday that they will decide in the next few weeks.

In addition to the Regollar case, Castillo is awaiting prosecution in Ventura County Juvenile Court in connection with the 1993 stabbing death of Ventura High School student Jesse Strobel.

Last Friday, Castillo's defense attorneys said he was considering a plea change in that case, after previously denying that he killed the 17-year-old high school football player during an attempted robbery six years ago.

Strobel was stabbed to death on Jan. 29, 1993, while walking home from his father's Ventura pizzeria. Police say he was confronted by a group of men who tried to rob him. He fought back and was stabbed with a knife.

Castillo was arrested six years later, when police investigated a tip from an informant. He is being tried as a juvenile in that case, because he was 15 at the time of the killing.

On June 4, Castillo denied a juvenile petition accusing him of murder.

A petition in Juvenile Court is equivalent to a criminal charge in adult court, and a denial is the same as a not-guilty plea.

A trial date in that case is set for Aug. 27, and Castillo is scheduled to appear in Juvenile Court for a pretrial hearing Aug. 16.

If he admits to the crime, Castillo would probably be incarcerated for four years, because juvenile offenders can only be held at the California Youth Authority until age 25. He is now 21.

He is being held at the Ventura County Jail without bail.

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