Comments Off on Witnesses describe sudden, unprovoked but Methamphetamine-fueled killing of Antonia Herrera, 23, of San Marcos

The ride from Las Vegas to San Marcos had been peaceful on Jan. 11 just before dawn. No fights, no tension. No reason for gunfire. But as Antonia Herrera cuddled with her boyfriend Xiance Loera in the backseat, the man seated in front of them racked the slide of a semi-automatic handgun, turned around and opened fire on her, Loera said.

“It was sudden,” Loera testified in a Vista courtroom Monday. “There was no warning — just turned around and shot.”

The testimony came during the preliminary hearing for the accused gunman, 27-year-old Paul R. Castro IV, a reportedly mentally ill man who authorities say was paranoid and on a five-day methamphetamine bender when he shot the 23-year-old San Marcos resident as they rode on Interstate 15 nearing unincorporated Escondido

At the end of Monday’s hearing, Superior Court Judge Robert Kearney ordered Castro to stand trial on murder and assault charges as well as allegations that he used a gun.

Castro, a former gang member, has pleaded not guilty. He faces 69 years to life in prison if he is convicted of killing Herrera and shooting at her boyfriend.

He remains jailed in lieu of $3 million bail. His trial is set for January.

Castro reportedly has bipolar and schizophrenic behavior, with a documented history of paranoia, and often spoke of believing people — including drug cartels — were out to kill him, according to court documents and testimony.

According to testimony, the killing happened as Herrera, her boyfriend Loera and Castro were passengers in a car driven by friend, Christian Fajardo, as they headed from Las Vegas to Herrera’s apartment before dawn Jan. 11. Loera was going to San Marcos to live with Herrera, and his longtime friends were dropping the couple off.

During the drive, Castro was quiet and not himself, his friends said. At one point, Castro asked one of his friends if he was planning to kill him.

As the car neared the freeway exit for her apartment, Herrera told Castro — who had become increasingly paranoid during the trip — that they would be driving through a heavily wooded area, but not to worry.

“She was trying to be nice,” Loera said.

Her attempt at reassuring Castro had the opposite effect on him.

Herrera was shot three times, including a fatal bullet through her heart, said Dr. Abubakr Marzouk, a forensic pathologist with the Medical Examiner’s office.

Loera had his arm around her, and received a graze wound.

After the shooting, Fajardo said, Castro “starting apologizing and was banging the gun against his head.”

Castro forced his friends to stop so he could dump the body, then the three men drove back to Las Vegas.

Herrera’s body was found later that afternoon, down an embankment along Champagne Boulevard outside Escondido.

None of the three men told authorities what had happened until San Diego County Sheriff’s homicide detectives connected the dots and came knocking a few weeks later.


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