Sixteen year old Jackson County murder case affirmed by Minnesota Supreme Court

JACKSON – The case has dragged out for 16 years, but today the Minnesota Supreme Court affirmed the conviction of Juan Humberto Castillo-Alvarez for his role in the 1997 slaying of Gregory Sky Erickson of Estherville, Iowa.

Fifteen-year-old Erickson was kidnapped in June of 1997 and was taken to an abandoned farmhouse in Jackson County where he was tortured and eventually murdered over a drug debt. Erickson was gagged and shot by a member of the drug gang, Luis Lua. The gun was then passed to a companion, Ryan Wedebrand who also shot Erickson. The gun was provided by Castillo-Alvarez after he allegedly told the others to beat Erickson. The day after the men shot Erickson, they went back to the abandoned house and tried to burn it to the ground. In didn't work, and the body was discovered about a week later.

Castillo-Alvarez, who had fronted the drugs, had been pressuring Erickson to pay up. When authorities searched his Mexican restaurant, they found the gun used to kill Erickson hidden in a tile ceiling. Castillo-Alvarez fled to Mexico to avoid prosecution. He was extradited in October, 2006. Castillo-Alvarez was found guilty of second-degree murder by an Iowa jury in September, 2007 but the Iowa Court of Appeals reversed the conviction, saying Castillo-Alvarez was denied his speedy trial rights.

Charges were then filed in Jackson County, and a jury found him guilty of second-degree murder and kidnapping. He was sentenced to 40 years in prison. He appealed, citing Double Jeopardy. That appeal failed in the appellate court system, and was sent to the Supreme Court, who affirmed the conviction today.

Jackson County Attorney Bob O’Connor said he considers the Supreme Court ruling a win, adding the news was good for the family. The Supreme Court does a good job, he said, and he is happy they saw things the same way his office does. He has already talked to a family member, who said they feel as though they finally have gotten justice for their son.

O’Connor said he is unfortunately expecting the Castillo-Alvarez defense team to take the next step – appealing the case to the federal courts.

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