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Houston youth’s capital murder trial begins in fatal shooting of 4-year-old girl

November 27, 2018

A Houston youth who admittedly was the getaway driver for a roving crew of armed robbers began his capital murder trial on Tuesday, charged with killing a 4-year-old girl in a hail of bullets from an assault rifle used to rob the victim’s mother.

Philip Battles, 20, faces life in prison without parole for the 2016 death of Ava Castillo, 4, who was shot by the crew during a robbery outside her Greenspoint apartment.

“As they’re standing there, near their apartment door, they’re fired upon 13 times,” prosecutor Cameron Calligan said. “Ava Castillo is shot in the head. She dies.”

Jurors where shown photos of Castillo, smiling a toothy wide-eyed grin, as prosecutors described how she and her family were fired upon by a group of men with an assault-style rifle.

Defense attorneys Jerald Graber and Mark Hochglaube did not make opening statements, and later declined to talk about their planned defense.

Prosecutors told the jury that they will present Battles’ recorded admission to police that he was the driver involved in the armed robbery that killed Castillo and wounded her mother and sister the night of November 14, 1996.

“This defendant and his crew were out there stalking,” Calligan said. “They were looking for someone to rob.”

Ava’s mother, Diana Gomez, and her 10-year-old sister survived the shooting. Her mother was unloading groceries at her Greenspoint-area apartment when a man approached her with an assault-style long rifle and demanded her purse. A struggle ensued and more than a dozen bullets cut through Ava, her sister and mother. Ava’s 6-year-old brother was not injured.

“You’ll hear from his own mouth, ‘I was there. I was the driver. I participated,’” Calligan told jurors. “But he’s a lot more involved in the planning of this robbery and capital murder.”

Battles was arrested after police linked a different armed robbery to a crew of young men because a stolen car had a Bluetooth tracker on a set of keys in the car and tracked them to Battles’ home, Calligan said.

Battles was also arrested in a separate capital murder case, where he’s accused of a killing a 62-year-old man who was working in his garden in November 2016. The man’s cellphone was found at Battles’ house, prosecutors have said.

The trial, before visiting judge Leslie Yates, is expected to last about a week.

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