A 20-year-old Merced man was convicted of first-degree murder in the 2015 shooting death of a well-known taxi driver and one-time Dos Palos police officer.
A jury of six men and six women on Thursday afternoon found Joseph Castrillo guilty after a week-long trial before Judge Ronald W. Hansen in Merced County Superior Court. The jury deliberated for under one hour. Castrillo was convicted of killing 59-year-old Dean Barker on Jan. 5, 2015.
Castrillo, who police have said is a gang member, was arrested 10 days after Barker’s death. Merced police detectives have said that after the slaying, Castrillo told family members he planned to rob Barker but he “panicked” and “messed up.”
A co-defendant, Dante Woods, pleaded no contest last year to voluntary manslaughter in the case and testified during the trial.
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Barker’s sons said the guilty verdict is what they were looking for.
“We didn’t want this to be the kind of thing where he could say it was an accident,” said Michael Barker. “We wanted people to know that this was no accident. It was intentional. We’re happy with the outcome, but it still hurts.”
“I’m just really missing my dad right now,” Timothy Barker said.
District Attorney Larry Morse II, who prosecuted the case with Deputy District Attorney Katie Gates, said the outcome was “bittersweet.”
“Nothing we can do in a courtroom can bring Dean Barker back to the family that lost him,” Morse said. “All we can do is hope for some measure of justice and a sense of closure, if there is such a thing when you’ve lost somebody in such a cruel and tragic way.”
Castrillo’s attorney, Deputy Public Defender Michael Coughlin, said Castrillo maintains his innocence and plans to appeal the verdict after sentencing, which is set for Nov. 1.
“We respect the jury’s verdict and we’ll go from here and see what other legal steps we can take,” he said.
Castrillo’s family shed tears as the verdict was read. His grandmother, Vicky Zepeda, said she believes the wrong man was charged with Barker’s murder.
“He’s not vicious and he’s not a cold-blooded murderer,” Zepeda said. “I feel sorry for the victim’s family and my heart goes out to them.”
Prosecutors said Castrillo and Woods planned to meet up with some friends at a liquor store and hailed Barker’s cab for a ride. But, the pair asked to be picked up at an address down the street from where they were staying and Castrillo changed their destination during the ride. Barker asked them multiple times if they had money to pay for the ride and threatened to involve police if they didn’t pay.
When the cab arrived at the Merced Commons apartments on Q Street, Castrillo hit Barker in the head with a revolver and then shot him three times, prosecutors said. Woods then climbed over Barker’s body to exit the cab since the back doors of the car wouldn’t open and let Castrillo out.
A witness who lived in the apartments said he saw the two men rummaging through Barker’s car before they fled on foot to Castrillo’s step mother’s home. There, witnesses testified that Castrillo bragged about the murder.
Later when Castrillo’s girlfriend asked him about what happened in the cab, he told her to read the newspaper, she testified.
Coughlin questioned the credibility of multiple witnesses, but, in the end, the jury sided with the prosecution.
“The most precious, fundamental right anyone has ... is the right to life,” Gates said. “The defendant got his fair trial. ... Dean had his right to life stolen from him. It shouldn’t be that easy to take a life.”
Brianna Calix: 209-385-2477