YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections


Admitted Killer Testifies Against Alleged Accomplice in Clerk's Death

Courts: Jose 'Pepe' Castillo tells jury Alfredo Hernandez, on trial for murder, shot grocer Mirna Regollar in the head.


Looking for a way to pay off a drug debt, Jose "Pepe" Castillo of Santa Paula said, he planned the holdup of his neighborhood convenience store and asked a friend to join him.

So on a June morning two years ago, Castillo and Alfredo Hernandez each grabbed a gun and walked to Junior's Market on Oak Street in Santa Paula, he said. But the robbery didn't go as planned, Castillo testified Tuesday.

As shop owner Mirna Regollar was opening the register, Castillo said, they saw her press a silent alarm.

Hernandez instantly shot the mother of two in the head with a .22-caliber revolver, and Castillo shot her in the back, Castillo said during the third day of testimony in Hernandez's murder trial in Ventura County Superior Court.

Dressed in a striped shirt and dress pants, Castillo related his version of how Regollar, a 25-year-old Ventura College nursing student, was killed on June 2, 1998. Hernandez is accused of murder, attempted robbery and commercial burglary, and could face life without the possibility of parole if convicted.

Castillo, 22, pleaded guilty in March to murdering Regollar, and agreed to testify against Hernandez to avoid the death penalty. For his cooperation, Castillo is expected to receive a sentence of life without possibility of parole.

Without any physical evidence linking 22-year-old Hernandez to the crime, Deputy Dist. Atty. Don Glynn is hinging his case on the testimony of Castillo and Rene Moreno, a police informant who testified Monday.

Answering Glynn's questions, Castillo described the events leading up to the shooting as follows:

The robbery intentionally took place shortly after the first of the month, to ensure he got money from any recently cashed checks.

Castillo and Hernandez entered the market at about 11 a.m. and saw Regollar stocking shelves in the back. Castillo told her not to do anything foolish as they followed her to the register.

When she arrived at the front of the store, she smiled, pushed the alarm button and began to open the register. Hernandez then fired a revolver near her right ear, while Castillo fired a .32-caliber semiautomatic at her back. The pair left the store running, and didn't take any money. "We didn't want to leave no fingerprints," Castillo said.

When they returned to Castillo's house, where Hernandez was living in the garage, the men stashed their clothes and put on new ones.

While there, Castillo shaved his mustache while Hernandez shaved his head, to change their appearance. Then Castillo called his friend Moreno for a ride to the Ventura County Government Center, where, as a possible alibi, he had himself put on the court's calendar to appear before a judge regarding a previous criminal matter.

Castillo said he later told both his girlfriend and Moreno that he had killed Regollar. He also said he disassembled the guns, removing the barrels, and later sold the weapons for drugs.

During his cross-examination, defense attorney James Farley questioned Castillo's credibility, portraying him as a murderer, a drug dealer and a liar. In addition to the Regollar murder, Castillo admitted last year to fatally stabbing Ventura teen Jesse Strobel in 1993.

When Farley asked whether Castillo enjoyed stabbing people, the witness paused and said, "Once upon a time."

Castillo said Tuesday that he sold and used drugs regularly before he was arrested in April 1999. The night before the Santa Paula murder, he said he injected "quite a bit" of methamphetamine.

Castillo also admitted to lying--both to the police and on the witness stand.

"Everybody who gets busted by the police always lies the first time," he said.

And Castillo admitted he lied about the names of certain friends during the preliminary hearing in the present case to protect them. Now, he said, he's starting to remember what really happened.

"How about saving your own life--would you lie to do that?" Farley asked Tuesday.

"No," Castillo answered.

Testimony is scheduled to continue Thursday morning before Judge Ken Riley.

Los Angeles Times Articles