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Jury selection begins in torture, death of toddler trial

ESCONDIDO — Attorneys began their quest May 7 to find the jury that will try a man accused of abusing and torturing his girlfriend’s children, which resulted in the death of her 2-year-old son.
Jose Maurice Castenada, 24, is charged with murder, assault on a child and two counts each of torture and child cruelty. If convicted, he could be sentenced to death.
Due to the sensitivity of the case, potential jurors were asked to fill out a 35-page questionnaire that attorneys will use in selecting the jury panel. The questionnaire contains 130 questions, some of which pertain to the details of the case and the death penalty.
Below are several questions:
48. Have you ever suspected that a child you knew was being abused at home?
51. Do you think one gender is more likely than the other to be abusive toward children?
104. As you have been told, the death penalty is never mandatory in California. Do you believe the death penalty should automatically be imposed for the killing of a child?
Once attorneys narrow the jury pool through the questionnaires, potential jurors will be called back to answer questions in open court.
Castenada and the toddler’s mother, Maria Razo, were arrested after taking the boy to an Escondido hospital June 25, 2005, after Cesar Razo lost consciousness due to the defendant choking him, according to court documents.
Maria Razo pleaded guilty June 8, 2007, to voluntary manslaughter and two counts of felony child abuse with the allegation that great bodily injury was inflicted. She is expected to testify at the trial.
The victim’s sister, who was also abused and tortured, is also expected to testify, according to court documents. She was 5 at the time of the incident.
The couple told the hospital staff the boy fell from a swing, but after doctors discovered more than 200 bruises on the child, who died later that day, they called the authorities.
An autopsy on Cesar Razo revealed he died from two fatal blows that were delivered to his abdomen and the back of his skull.
Judge Joan Weber, who is presiding over the trial, ruled at an earlier hearing to allow two video segments that show Castenada documenting the injuries to the child just days prior to the boy’s death.
The video segments, which were shot March 15 and June 17, 2005, show injuries to the toddler’s back and head.
Weber said despite the prejudice of the two video segments, they have to be shown in their entirety.
The trial could run as long as eight weeks.