Man’s motives at center of harassment trial |

Man’s motives at center of harassment trial

Jason Auslander
The Aspen Times

Jurors in the case of a Central American man accused of harassing and touching a 15-year-old girl one night last summer will have to decide if the encounter was a cross-cultural misunderstanding or something more sinister.

“This was not an accident,” prosecutor Sarah Talbott said during opening arguments. “This was not a mistake and this was not a misunderstanding. A grown man followed a 15-year-old girl off the bus and he accosted her. There’s no doubt as to his intentions.”

But Benigno Castillo’s attorney, Sam Crary of the Office of the State Public Defender told jurors during his opening statement that the case was about race, cultural differences and a father who’d lost his teenage daughter the year before.

“Misunderstanding, miscommunication and fear means (Castillo) never got a fair chance until now,” Crary said.

Castillo, 47, is charged with two counts of misdemeanor harassment in connection with the incident, which occurred after 9 p.m. on Aug. 2, when both Castillo and the 15-year-old got off a Roaring Fork Transportation Authority bus at Holland Hills near Basalt.

The girl, a sophomore at Basalt High School and a resident of the Holland Hills area, testified Thursday that she’d been watching a movie with friends at a movie theater in El Jebel before getting on the bus at about 9 p.m. to go home. She said she’d been riding the bus by herself since age 9 and felt “perfectly safe” doing so.

At Holland Hills, only Castillo and the girl got off the bus, she said. As they were waiting to cross Highway 82, Castillo began talking to her in Spanish, which made her feel “a little scared,” she said. She became more nervous when Castillo reached into his pocket, so she took out her phone and pretended to make a call.

However, Castillo continued talking to her as they crossed the highway and asked her name, she testified. She gave him a fake name and he told her his name. Then Castillo hugged her, she said.

“I thought his hands were a little low,” she said.

After that, he put his arm around her waist and began guiding her toward a nearby home, while saying the word “casa,” which means “house” in Spanish, she said.

“He tried to force me into his home,” she said.

So the girl pointed to her phone, said she had to go, ran toward the bus stop, up a nearby embankment and hid in a group of trees, she said. She then called her mother. She said Castillo came back to the area and looked around, then left.

“It’s probably the most scared I’ve ever been,” she said.

Her mother’s boyfriend soon came and picked her up and took her home. She said they saw Castillo walking as they drove home.

Crary, however, said Castillo thought it was “weird” that the girl was going home alone. The documented resident from El Salvador and father of three daughters also was upset because the day was the one-year anniversary of the death of his teenage daughter, who died after she was abandoned in the Texas desert trying to enter the country, Crary said.

Castillo had gone to a bar earlier in the night to drink so he would “not feel so much pain,” he said.

Castillo was trying to be friendly when he engaged the girl in conversation and didn’t want her to feel uncomfortable, he said. The girl, however, was clearly “very afraid,” and that fear clouded her view of the situation, Crary said.

Castillo hugged her because physical contact is a normal way to break the ice between people, he said.

“His mind was on his own daughter and how no one helped her,” Crary said. “He never chased after her, he never hurt her and he never threatened her.”

However, he was treated like a “predator” by Pitkin County sheriff’s deputies, and “never got a fair chance,” Crary said.

The two-day trial is scheduled to resume today.