Appeal denied for Niles man convicted of killing Dowagiac man in 2009 stabbing

Published 6:00 am Wednesday, February 1, 2023

NILES — The Niles man who stabbed and killed a Dowagiac man in 2009 has had his appeal for a new trial denied. 

The Michigan Supreme Court said last week that they would not take up the appeal filed by Jonathan Castillo. Castillo, now 42, was convicted in 2009 of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison without parole in the stabbing death of Michael Evans of Dowagiac.  

Evans was dating the mother of Castillo’s three children and was killed outside Castillo’s family’s Maple Street home in Niles after an altercation on Feb. 2, 2009.  

In the ruling by the Michigan Supreme Court Jan. 25, they denied Castillo’s application for leave to appeal the July 14, 2022 decision by the Michigan Court of Appeals.  

“On order of the Court, the application for leave to appeal the July 14, 2022 judgment of the Court of Appeals is considered, and it is denied, because we are not persuaded that the questions presented should be reviewed by this Court,” the court ruling stated. 

The Michigan Court of Appeals had ruled in July, 2022 that there was insufficient evidence to order a new trial for Castillo. Castillo and his attorneys had asked for a new trial in 2017 based on testimony from a new witness and problems with how that witness’s testimony was translated from Spanish. 

An evidentiary hearing before Berrien County Trial Judge Charles LaSata in 2018 featured testimony from that new witness, Castillo’s brother-in-law Osvaldo Villafuerte. Villafuerte claimed he was there that day and saw Evans pull out a knife as Evans and Castillo struggled. 

Judge LaSata said in his ruling that he found Villafuerte’s testimony to be “lacking in credibility” and questioned why the man had not said anything until years after Castillo’s conviction. “During the evidentiary hearing, this Court determined that Mr. Villafuerte was one of the least credible witnesses this Court has ever encountered,” he wrote. 

Berrien County Assistant Prosecutor Aaron Mead noted that the Court of Appeals had initially denied Castillo’s application for leave to appeal in 2020 but considered it in 2021 after the Michigan Supreme Court had remanded it back to them for consideration. 

Mead said that Castillo’s direct appeals from his conviction actually ended in 2011 and this current appeal was from his second motion for relief from judgment. He said any further appeal would have to be based on other grounds such as claiming more newly discovered evidence or a retroactive change in the law.