Harris County jury reaches verdict in trial of murder of 4-year-old Ava Castillo
A Harris County jury took less than 20 minutes to convict 20-year-old Philip Battles of capital murder for the 2016 shooting death of 4-year-old Ava Castillo.
Battles did not react as visiting state District Judge Leslie Yates announced the verdict. Castillo’s family members wiped their eyes after an emotional morning of closing arguments that included seeing a photo of the toothy 4-year-old child just days before her death.
“It’s because of Philip Battles and his crew that Ava Castillo is no longer with us,” prosecutor Shannon Drehner told jurors in closing arguments of the week-long trial. “There are no people who are off-limits for Philip Battles.”
Battles defense team argued that he was guilty of aggravated robbery, not capital murder, because the trio of men were trying to rob Castillo’s mother, not kill anyone.
“There was no conscious objective, other than to rob,” defense lawyer Mack Hochglaube argued. “Unless there is a conscious objective to kill, it’s not a capital murder.”
Battles was automatically sentenced to life in prison without parole for his part in the November 14, 2016 a robbery with two other men who sprayed an apartment parking lot with 13 bullets, killing the child and wounding her mother and sister.
Throughout the trial, prosecutors have presented evidence to how that on the day Castillo was killed, Battles, along with two other Houston teens, committed a total of four violent armed robberies.
Investigators said the three men first pistol-whipped a man and stold 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.
After highjacking the car, the group then went to the Greenspoint-area apartment complex where the girl and her family was unloading groceries in the parking lot. Witnesses, including Ava’s mother, Diana Gomez, said three men tried to take her purse and allegedly opened fire killing the 4-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.
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.