Prosecutors: Defendant tried to get mistrial

By Sharna Johnson: CNJ staff writer

Prosecutors say jail house phone calls show Anthony Ray Casillas was trying to cause a mistrial in his double-homicide case.

Tuesday, District Judge Robert Orlik declared a mistrial when a badly beaten witness collapsed during his testimony and two Casillas family members caused a disruption in a courthouse hallway in the presence of jurors.

Orlik ruled the totality of the incidents the jury was exposed to could be inflammatory and declared the mistrial.

Casillas, 23, is accused of shooting and killing Gary Payne, 52, of Melrose, and Melissa Ward, 36, of Lubbock as the trio drove on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard Sept. 25, 2008.

If convicted, Casillas faces a maximum two consecutive life sentences.

A new five-day trial was set for June 14 during a hearing Wednesday.

In a motions filed Wednesday afternoon, District Attorney Matt Chandler told the court Anthony Casillas made a recorded phone call to his mother the day before trial began, in which he said, “The worst they can do is give me a mistrial, that’s what I want! I am going to raise Hell.”

Additionally, Chandler said, state’s witnesses reported Casillas sent family members to their homes telling them not to testify, and a female witness — Sabrina Martinez — was beaten and chased in a vehicle the weekend prior to trial, “with the perpetrators yelling threats about testifying.”

Chandler is seeking an order for depositions for use at trial in the event something happens to two key witnesses.

Chandler has asked that Steven Casillas, the witness who collapsed, and Martinez be allowed to give recorded testimony and be cross-examined in the event, “the witnesses become unavailable for any reason.”

Orlik has yet to rule on the request.

In argument opposing the deposition of Martinez in lieu of live testimony, defense attorney Jesse Cosby argued Casillas has a constitutional right to confront and cross examine a witness against him.

Also, he argued, the state has not presented any evidence of threats against her, or that she is unwilling to testify.

The state’s fears the witness may be threatened and refuse to testify is not enough to warrant allowing a deposition, Cosby argued.

In the event the court allows a deposition in lieu of live testimony, Cosby said the state should be required to prove the witness is unavailable.

The proposed deposition of Steven Casillas was not addressed in the motion.

Steven Casillas, Anthony Casillas’ uncle, was the fourth witness in Casillas’ double-homicide trial and arrived at court injured.

Casillas told law enforcement at the courthouse he was beaten by several individuals who told him if he testified, his brother would be killed, records show.

Chandler said in another recorded phone call made from the jail the day the mistrial was declared, Anthony Ray Casillas referred to the mistrial as a “joy and blessing” and said, “the importance of what just happened was great.”

Chandler said the investigation into the assault of Steven Casillas is ongoing and declined to elaborate.