The 20-year-old man convicted of killing a well-known Merced taxi driver in a botched robbery was sentenced to 50 years to life in prison on Wednesday.
Merced County Superior Court Judge Ronald W. Hansen sentenced Joseph Castrillo after hearing from the family of Dean Barker, a 59-year-old cab driver and former Dos Palos policeman who was shot to death Jan. 5, 2015.
A jury of six men and six women found Castrillo guilty on Aug. 31 after the jury deliberated for under an hour following a week-long trial.
Castrillo, described by police as 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 said he “panicked” and “messed up.”
Barker and his wife, Gloria, were making plans to soon move out of state before he was killed, she said in court Wednesday. “He was a man that didn’t deserve to have his life taken like this,” she said. “It changed my whole world.”
She said she’s still struggling with feelings of shock and denial, often reaching for her phone to call her husband with a question. “And then it hits me, he’s not there,” she said. “I miss him. I miss my husband every day. We had plans to move back to Oregon.”
Prosecutors said Castrillo and co-defendant Dante Woods planned to meet up with some friends at a liquor store and called for a cab ride. The pair asked to be picked up at an address down the street from where they were staying and they changed their destination during the ride. Barker asked them if they had money to pay for the ride and threatened to involve the police if they didn’t pay, according to testimony.
Woods pleaded no contest last year to voluntary manslaughter in the case and testified during the trial.
Castrillo’s Deputy Public Defender Michael Coughlin said Castrillo maintains his innocence and plans to appeal the verdict. “He expresses his condolences to the Barkers,” he said. “He always has.”
During victim impact statements in court on Wednesday, a number of Barker’s loved ones could be heard crying.
Michael Barker, the second of four sons of Dean Barker, said he’s filled with “anger and hate” towards Castrillo. He admitted to thinking about what kind of revenge he could carry out on his father’s killer sitting only several footsteps away.
“I made a promise to my father. I would not become like this man here,” he said, motioning to Castrillo. “I will take another path. I will not put my hands on him. I will not take vengeance.”
“My father was a good man,” he said, wiping tears from his face.
When Barker’s 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.
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, according to testimony. There, witnesses testified that Castrillo bragged about the slaying
Barker said his father felt uneasy weeks before he was killed, and the son offered to buy a gun for his father’s protection. “He told me ‘No.’ He said if they want it, they can just have it,” his son said. “He wasn’t about to shoot somebody for a few dollars.”
The sentence was not a surprise on Wednesday, according to Katie Gates, the deputy district attorney who prosecuted the case.
“Mr. Barker and his family gave very powerful statements in court,” she said. “We know that they’re going to grapple with this loss forever.”