By KATIE McLAUGHLIN
BRENTWOOD, N.H. (Court TV) — A jury has found a New Hampshire man guilty in a killing that prosecutors say led to a shooting inside a church 12 days later.
Brandon Castiglione was found guilty of two counts of second-degree murder in the Oct. 1, 2019, death of Luis Garcia.
Garcia, who was a pastor of New England Pentecostal Ministries Church in Pelham, NH, was at Castiglione’s home at the time of his death. Castiglione attended Garcia’s church, and the two would attend regular Thursday night prayer gatherings.
Twelve days after Garcia was killed, both the Castiglione and Garcia families gathered at the Pelham church for different reasons. Brandon Castiglione’s father, Mark, was getting married and Luis Garcia’s funeral was scheduled to begin two hours later. As the wedding was about to begin, gun shots rang out. Garcia’s stepson Dale Holloway went to the church and allegedly shot three people: the bride, the groom, and the bishop. All three have since recovered.
Holloway, 38, is still awaiting trial, although he is currently in prison on a separate charge — he pleaded guilty to assaulting his public defender.
Last October, Castiglione tried to claim his Sixth Amendment right to a speedy trial was denied. His lawyers tried to get his case dismissed. However, the judge ruled that the definition of “speedy” was compromised by the seriousness of the charges and delays caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to court documents, Castiglione declined to cooperate in mental competency evaluations, leading to questions about his competency. But the court ruled back in March that Castiglione had demonstrated clear thinking and communication over the past 18 months and need not be reevaluated.
Prosecutors said parishioners described Castiglione as hyper-religious, and that he and Garcia had engaged in heated debates over interpretations of the Bible. According to police, Garcia was doing work at Castiglione’s house when he was gunned down, but the exact circumstances of the shooting and what led to it are unclear.
Castiglione’s defense attorney argued there was no direct evidence linking him to the murder, and there were no witnesses to the shooting, although first responders reported finding Castiglione crying near the body.
Castiglione’s attorney has suggested someone else may have had a motive to kill Garcia.
Prosecutors, however, argued physical evidence implicates Castiglione, including a gun found at the scene with the defendant’s fingerprint on it. The gun was missing a single round which matched the type of bullet that killed Garcia.
DAILY TRIAL HIGHLIGHTS
DAY 5 – 5/15/23
- Brandon Castiglione declines to testify, the defense rests.
- Defense attorney Wade Harwood argued in closing argument that police failed to conduct a thorough investigation and that evidence they collected such as his client’s clothing and swabs meant to test for gunshot residue and touch DNA were never tested. Harwood also argued that the defendant had no motive to kill Garcia, and that police had failed to prove that the bullet found at the scene was connected to Castiglione’s handgun.
- Prosecutor Benjamin Agati countered by stating GSR tests would not have excluded the defendant, as he was found laying close to the victim and would have certainly been contaminated by the cloud of chemicals released by the gunshot that killed Garcia.
- Agati urged jurors to avoid speculating about where the defendant may have gone in the hours before Garcia was discovered by Castiglione’s family and police. The prosecutor noted that the defendant had no job, no mode of transportation and nowhere to go. He was alone with Garcia in a locked house and Garcia’s call log suggested he had stopped answering calls about 45 minutes after his last known call. His call log reflected a very narrow window of time before he was killed – time that coincided with his presence at the defendant’s house, where he was helping paint some of the bedrooms.
- Agati also argued that it was the defendant’s gun at the crime scene along with a casing fired from his gun that was consistent with ammunition that he kept in a locked cabinet by his bedside. The prosecutor noted that windows were sealed and there was no evidence of an intruder. Agati closed by asking jurors to consider the defendant’s intent when they evaluated how Garcia was killed, shot with his back turned to his killer.
- A Jury of 9 women and 3 men deliberated for about two hours and found Brandon Castiglione guilty of two counts of 2nd degree murder for ‘knowingly’ and ‘recklessly’ causing the death of his pastor and friend Luis Garcia.
DAY 4 – 5/12/23
- Prosecutors rested their case after calling the medical examiner who testified that Luis Garcia died from a single gunshot wound to the neck.
- Castiglione addresses the judge and says, “As of right now,” he will remain with his defense attorneys.
- The defendant asked for the weekend to consider whether he would testify and appeared to leave open the possibility that he would dump his attorneys and represent himself.
- Dr. Jennie Duval, Chief Medical Examiner for State of N.H., testified that Luis Garcia was killed by a single bullet to the back of his neck.
- Bishop Stanley Choate testified that Castiglione in the weeks leading up to the shooting was withdrawn and his behavior raised some concern.
- Judge denies motions by the defense to dismiss the case based on lack of evidence.
DAY 3 – 5/11/23
- Defendant’s father Mark Castiglione testified the front door was locked by deadbolt; the doorknob lock was broken.
- He called Luis Garcia to check on him around 9:30, when he didn’t answer he called his son who did not respond.
- Testified Brandon Castiglione and the victim Luis Garcia had a ‘pretty good’ relationship
- Firearms expert testified that casing at the scene was fired from the defendant’s gun but could not match the bullet to his gun.
- A latent print examiner concluded that 2 of three prints recovered from the defendant’s gun were identified as his left thumbprint. The third print did not have enough detail for comparison
DAY 2 – 5/10/23
- WATCH: Murdered Minister Trial: Day 2 Recap
- Patricia Garcia, victim’s widow breaks down after being shown a picture of her husband.
- Garcia testified she last saw the defendant during a bible study session just a few days before her husband was killed.
- Danielle Patalano, defendant’s sister arrived at the house before anyone else. Observed doors were locked and did not get any response when she knocked, rang the doorbell and yelled their names.
- Stipulation: gun found at the scene is the defendant’s gun
- Police recovered cartridge casing, spent bullet, as well as the defendant’s gun from the crime scene.
- READ MORE:
DAY 1 – 5/9/23
- Prosecutors say the bullet and a casing found at the scene were linked to the defendant’s gun. The projectile was similar to ammunition that the defendant kept in a drawer next to his bed, and Castiglione’s fingerprint was recovered from the pistol linked to the shooting.
- Defense attorneys say their client is innocent and the evidence lacking, blaming police for a botched investigation.
- “Police jumped to conclusions. You’re going to hear about things the police should have done in this that they simply did not do. They only looked for evidence that pointed to Brandon,” said Defense attorney Wade Harwood.
- The defendant’s grandmother Frances Pestana became emotional Tuesday recalling how she found the body of her friend and pastor Luis Garcia lying in a pool of blood, and her grandson a few feet away in the fetal position rocking back and forth. She said no one else was in the home and the doors were locked when she initially tried to make her way in.
- Sgt. Andrew Phillips, who responded to the scene, testifies to finding the defendant mumbling on his hands and knees.
Grace Wong, Court TV’s Senior Director of Courtroom Coverage, contributed to this report.