A Mendota 14-year-old confessed to killing a 4-year-old neighbor because the boy was going to tell his mother the teen had molested him, according to a court affidavit made public Wednesday.
The affidavit is in the criminal case file for Raul Renato Castro, who sat in shackles and showed no emotion in his first appearance in Fresno County Superior Court, where he is being tried as an adult.
After a brief hearing, lawyers decided to delay the teen's arraignment in the murder of Alex Christopher Mercado until Tuesday.
Lawyers would not comment on the evidence, but an affidavit in support of Castro's arrest warrant describes a chilling, detailed confession in which the teen admitted he drowned Alex in a bathtub.
According to sheriff's detective Sergio Toscano's affidavit, Castro initially said he had nothing to do with the child's disappearance.
The detectives asked Castro how the boy ended up dead in the Castro family's clothes dryer.
Castro said, "Maybe someone broke into his home and put the victim in the clothes dryer," according to the affidavit.
The detectives encouraged Castro to be honest.
In the tape-recorded interview, Castro finally said he lured Alex to his Tuft Street home by telling the boy he had something to show him. He led Alex to a bathroom and told him to take off his clothes, the affidavit said.
Castro then molested the boy, Toscano wrote.
While putting on his clothes, Alex tripped and hit his head on the bathtub, Castro told Toscano. The boy started crying and said he was going to tell his mother, the affidavit said.
At that point, "Castro said he panicked and decided to kill the victim by drowning him in the bathtub," Toscano wrote.
The teen turned on the water and filled the tub just enough to cover Alex's face. He held the boy's head underwater for two to four minutes.
Castro got into the tub and held down the boy until he died, the affidavit said.
"Castro said he hoped the whole ordeal would go away," Toscano wrote.
But the next day, on Halloween, officials from the FBI and the Sheriff's Office searched the teen's home as part of a door-to-door operation and discovered Alex's body in the dryer.
The 5-foot Castro is being held in the Juvenile Justice Campus south of Fresno. His bail is more than $2 million.
A criminal complaint charges Castro as an adult with first-degree murder and four special allegations associated with that charge -- that it was committed along with child molestation, sodomy, and kidnapping, and in order to silence a witness. Castro also faces separate felony charges of kidnapping, sodomy and child molestation.
If convicted, the teen faces up to 47 years to life in prison.
Alex's killing still has people on edge in Mendota, and the new details will likely increase the tension, City Council Member Joseph Riofrio said Wednesday. "People are still hurt and shocked," he said.
But Riofrio said residents are starting to feel safe, regarding Alex's death as an isolated incident, Riofrio said.
"The good people of Mendota are coming together to help not only Alex's family, but also Elsa Castro and her family," he said, referring to the suspect's mother. "That's they way it should be."
The sheriff's spokesman, deputy Chris Curtice, said investigators have not received any information "that would lead us to believe that there are other victims."
In court, Raul Castro's eyes darted around the crowd, searching for familiar faces among the armed bailiffs and television cameras. He smiled briefly when he saw his mother, her eyes filled with tears.
Judge Jon Nick Kapetan delayed the arraignment until Tuesday after the teen's court-appointed attorney, Kathy Marousek, said she had not had a chance to review the Sheriff's Office's investigative reports.
Outside court, Elsa Castro declined to comment. But Raul Castro's grandmother, Desidora Hernandez, said, "He's a nice kid. We don't know what happened."
Elsa Castro has described herself as a single mother, and Riofrio has said the teen's father has been "out of the picture." According to a KFSN (Channel 30.1) report Wednesday evening, Raul Castro's father, Jose Antonio Castro, is a convicted sex offender who spent three years in prison.
The station reported that Elsa Castro had filed for divorce in 1996. Citing a Fresno County Superior Court complaint, the station reported that Jose Antonio Castro was convicted of molesting a Mendota boy.
Alex's family did not attend the Wednesday court hearing.
Matt Flood, a friend who is acting as spokesman for Alex's family, said the family has been busy with funeral arrangements. But they are aware of the details of Alex's death, he said.
"There's a certain sadness for this boy because of what he did," Flood said. "Alex's family feels sorry for the perpetrator and his family because in the end they will have to live with it."