SANTA MONICA—A three-justice panel from California’s 2nd District Court of Appeals upheld a man’s conviction for the murder of a former Santa Monica High School football player on Wednesday, April 1.
Sherwin Mendoza Espinosa, 45, was found guilty in August 2018 of second-degree murder. He fatally shot Juan Castillo on February 26, 2017. Castillo graduated from Santa Monica High School in 2016. He was only 18 years old at the time of his death.
The crime transpired outside of a liquor store located on the 2100 block of Pico Boulevard at 12:45 a.m. There was a brief run in between the victim and Espinoza before the shooting. The victim’s body was discovered just after 5 a.m., a mile away on the 1300 block of 16th Street.
In a 22-page ruling, the panel found the defendant in the shooting was “unintentional” and was caused by a ‘flinch’ rather than any overwhelming emotion. After the shooting, Espinoza returned to the bar where he had previously been at with friends. He continued drinking and socializing.
Under the conditions, the trial court had no duty but to give lesser included offense instruction on “heat of passion manslaughter.” The ruling continued that, “a reasonable jury could have concluded beyond a reasonable doubt that defendant did not actually believe Castillo posed a threat of death or great bodily injury to defendant.”
Jurors originally acquitted Espinosa of a more serious conviction of first-degree murder. The defendant is serving a 40-year to life term in state prison.
During the trial, Santa Monica Police Department Officer Steve Salandez told jurors that he discovered the victim who still had his Santa Monica school identification card on him.
According to Deputy District Attorney Keri Modder, one of Castillo’s friends was with him during the shooting. The friend panicked and drove away leaving Castillo’s body at the second location. Investigators used surveillance video taken from city buses and other sources to find the car the victim was shot in and the vehicle that was driven by Espinosa that night.