By Sharna Johnson: Freedom New Mexico
A district judge declared a mistrial Tuesday in the murder trial of Anthony Ray Casillas after a prosecution witness collapsed during testimony.
Witness Steven Casillas, the defendant’s uncle, appeared injured when he arrived at court, District Attorney Matt Chandler said.
Paramedics were called and were standing by while Steven Casillas took the stand; however he couldn’t get through his testimony and collapsed in the courtroom.
He was transported to Plains Regional Medical Center where he remained late Tuesday, guarded by law enforcement, Chandler said.
Steven Casillas advised law enforcement he had been beaten by a group of individuals and told not to testify or, “people would start dying.” Chandler said.
Judge Robert Orlik declared the mistrial after Steven Casillas’ collapse.
Citing an ongoing investigation, Chandler would not discuss specifics of when or where the assault of Steven Casillas took place or if it was connected to an outburst in a courthouse hallway on Tuesday. The outburst, which took place prior to Steven Casillas arriving to testify, led to two of Anthony Casillas’ family members being escorted from the building by law enforcement and told not to return, Chandler said.
Anthony Ray Casillas, 23, is accused of shooting and killing Gary Payne, 52, of Melrose, and Melissa Ward, 36, of Lubbock as the trio drove in a van on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard the night of Sept. 25, 2008.
He faces a maximum of two consecutive life sentences if convicted.
Testimony in the case began Tuesday morning.
“Law enforcement will fully investigate the attack against the state’s witness and anyone involved directly or indirectly will be held responsible for this planned attack,” Chandler said.
“Although this has slowed down our proceedings, it will not derail them.”
Before collapsing, Steven Casillas testified Anthony Casillas told him he wanted to know what it was like to kill someone and also a gun found in the van was one his nephew was known to carry.
Defense attorney Jesse Cosby made the motion for a mistrial. Cosby, of Roswell, could not be reached for comment Tuesday night.
“The judge found that the totality of … the severe outburst in the hallway … the testimony and the act of Mr. Casillas collapsing in the courtroom was inflammatory,” Chandler said.
A hearing is scheduled for 1:15 p.m. today, to set a new trial date.
Chandler said Orlik granted a motion for Anthony Ray Casillas to be housed in a state prison preceding the trial, “for the protection of the community.”
In the almost two years he has been awaiting trial, he has been incarcerated at the Curry County Adult Detention Center.
He also faces two charges of battery against detention officers.