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Fourth in 2015 gang assault turns himself in, pleads not guilty

Thu, June 29, 2017 2:22 PM | NYGIA (Administrator)

CANTON — The fourth former SUNY Canton student charged in the 2015 beating of a food delivery man appeared in court Monday after being on the lam for about a year.

Derek L. Castillo, of Manhattan, pleaded not guilty to first-degree and second-degree robbery, second-degree assault and second-degree gang assault.

The indictment charges that at about 12:15 a.m., on Sept. 24 in the village of Canton, Mr. Castillo and Edward S. Garcia, 21, of Manhattan, forcibly stole property from William R. LaPlant and, in the course of committing the crime, caused Mr. LaPlant serious physical injury.

The gang assault charge arises out of there being two or more other people present when they allegedly caused physical injury to Mr. LaPlant.

Also charged were Gerome G. Phillips, 19, and Arcenio Vazquez, 19, both of the Bronx.

On June 12, Mr. Garcia, Mr. Phillips, and Mr. Vazquez, were all sentenced to six months in the St. Lawrence County jail and five years of probation. Mr. Phillips and Mr. Vazquez were each sentenced for their pleas of second-degree robbery and Mr. Garcia was sentenced for his guilty plea to second-degree attempted robbery, each with a plea deal with the district attorney’s office.

As a part of Mr. Vazquez’s June 23 and Mr. Phillips’ June 30 pleas, the remaining indictment charging them with another count of second-degree robbery and one count of second-degree gang assault was satisfied.

County Court Judge Derek P. Champagne also granted Mr. Phillips and Mr. Vazquez youthful offender status, which will seal the records in the case.

During his appearance in court Monday, Mr. Castillo’s attorney, Edward F. Narrow, of Dumas & Narrow P.C., told the court that while his client was wanted on two outstanding warrants related to the charges against him, he had not previously appeared in court because he was unaware of the warrants and believed the court wasn’t going to hear his case until after his co-defendants were sentenced, since he had agreed to testify to the grand jury against them.

A bench warrant was issued for Mr. Castillo on July 19 after he failed to make court appearances. He turned himself in to police Monday once he learned of the warrants, Mr. Narrow said.

Additionally, Mr. Narrow had previously sought to have a special prosecutor handle the case due to what he thought was a conflict with District Attorney Mary E. Rain. Judge Champagne denied the motion, stating it was premature, since Mr. Castillo was not able to be located.

On April 19, 2016, St. Lawrence County Public Defender Steven G. Ballan filed a written complaint with the Committee on Professional Standards, Albany, alleging Ms. Rain disclosed testimony given by Mr. Castillo.

In the complaint, Mr. Ballan included a copy of the email Ms. Rain sent April 14 to then Assistant Public Defender Daniel C. Ramsey, who represented Mr. Garcia.

The email from Ms. Rain stated: “Mr. Narrow’s client has testified in GJ (grand jury) implicating each and every person in this planned robbery. In addition to that we have clear video footage of all four near the scene of the crime, together with one carrying the pizza boxes. The ‘alibi witness’ testified in GJ (grand jury) that he was not with these defendants that night.”

On April 25, the Monday after the complaint by Mr. Ballan was filed, county legislators adopted a lengthy resolution that criticized Ms. Rain’s job performance and asked the state to intervene.

In court Monday, Judge Champagne said he would be willing to resolve Mr. Castillo’s case similarly to his codefendants with a five-year probation sentence that could include a maximum of six months in St. Lawrence County jail.

Mr. Castillo was remanded to St. Lawrence County jail on $10,000 cash and $20,000 bond and the bench warrants were vacated.

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