Detective: Fatal shooting of 4-year-old girl one of four robberies Houston crew pulled in one day
A Houston man on trial for capital murder was part of a violent holdup crew that committed four armed robberies on the same day including a purse snatching resulting in the fatal shooting of a 4-year-old, a homicide detective testified Friday.
Philip Battles, 20, faces life in prison without parole if he is found guilty in taking part in the November 2016 a robbery with two other men who allegedly sprayed an apartment parking lot with 13 bullets, killing Ava Castillo and wounding her mother and sister. Battles’ defense team rested Friday without calling a single witness, and both sides are expected to argue their case before jurors begin deliberating his fate Monday.
Throughout the trial, prosecutors have presented evidence to how that on the day Castillo was killed, Battles, along with two other Houston youths, committed a total of four violent armed robberies.
Key testimony came Friday from David Crane, a Harris County Sheriff’s homicide detective who was able to link all four crime scenes through an assortment of items that the alleged robbers left behind.
“I recovered a whole lot of items that I saw significance in,” said Crane, referring to dropped bullets, a credit card, a shell casing and Swisher Sweet cigarillo packages recovered from a stolen car found near Battle’s north Houston home.
He also found matching items inside Battles home and was able to piece together a timeline of the day’s armed robberies.
“The description of the vehicle was the same,” said Crane, referring to the robberies. “And the suspect descriptions - three black males - all fit the info we were getting.”
Crane testified the crew of three men first pistol-whipped a man and took his black Honda Accord about 6:45 p.m. near Cypresswood. That car had a set of keys with a Bluetooth GPS locator and a phone, both of which police were later used to plot the vehicle’s path.
Once they had highjacked the car, the group then went to the Greenspoint-area apartment complex where Castillo and her family was unloading groceries in the parking lot. Witnesses, including Castillo’s mother, Diana Gomez, said three men tried to take her purse and allegedly opened fire killing the four-year-old girl about 8:45 p.m. At that crime scene, the robbers left a backpack that had been in the stolen car.
Two hours later, investigators said, the crew was near Crosswinds and Sam Houston Parkway where they allegedly robbed two men who were working on a car, stealing among other things, a credit card later found in the stolen car. While striking one of the robbery victims with a gun, bullets were dropped that later matched the caliber and manufacturer of the bullets in the weapon that killed Castillo.
Minutes after that assault, they allegedly pistol-whipped a man while robbing him. It was during that assault, that the gun was fired again, leaving behind a spent shell casing that matched the casing found at the complex where Castillo was killed.
Crane also testified cell phone records, including videos and texts, connect the three men.
“It tells me that two days prior to the murder, two of them were out buying the same kind of bullets used in the murder,” he said. Two days after the shooting, the police released information related to the case that was distributed by the media which lead to a tip, Crane said.
Cranes testimony was the last presented to the jury on Friday, and capped the prosecution’s case against Battles.
Earlier in the day, jurors where shown autopsy photos of Castillo.
Harris County forensic pathologist Merrill Hines told the jury he determined the wounds inflicted on the right side of the young girl’s scalp above her forehead had left her brain dead.
“This sort of injury would carry immediate loss of consciousness, and death would follow quickly,” Hines said.
While reviewing images on the witness stand, Hines explained that two separate fragments of a bullet perforated Castillo’s brain, which would have caused bleeding. She was removed from life support within two hours of being shot.
Battles has also been charged in the 2016 shooting deaths of Ignacio H. Ortega, 62, on Nov. 7 and Melvin Enrique Bonilla-Fuente, 31, on Nov. 8. Officials have also confirmed an eyewitness reported seeing Battles during an unrelated September 2016 fatal shooting.
The killings took place during armed robberies. Battles is considered a suspect in more than 20 armed robberies, sources said after he was charged with Castillo’s death.
Earlier this year, Dardar pleaded guilty to 60 years in prison and will be eligible for parole in 30 years. Miller is awaiting trial.
Battle’s trial, whihc has lasted a week, is scheduled to resume Monday in the court of visiting state District Judge Leslie Yates.