Castillo pleads guilty to accessory to murder, sentenced to 16 years
Michelle Castillo, charged in connection to the 2016 homicide of a Glenwood Springs woman, pleaded guilty to accessory to murder after the fact and was sentenced to 16 years in prison Friday morning.
Prior to Friday, Castillo was facing a charge of first-degree murder, as an accomplice, with a jury trail upcoming in January. Her plea was the result of an agreement with the DA’s office that stipulated the 16-year sentence. She also pleaded guilty to felony weapons possession by a previous offender and felony attempt to influence a public servant.
Despite the plea agreement, the prosecution and defense were still at odds about whether Castillo knew before the homicide that Gustavo Olivo-Tellez planned to kill his wife, as he is accused.
The defense contends that Castillo knew nothing about Olivo-Tellez’s plans before the shooting, which is reflective of the accessory charge that she pleaded to.
Prosecutors have argued that Castillo assisted her boyfriend, Olivo-Tellez, in the killing of his estranged wife, Blanca Salas-Jurado, and that she then helped him flee town and evade authorities.
Though they acknowledge that she did not pull the trigger, prosecutors says that, the morning of the homicide, Castillo drove to Denver to pick up Olivo-Tellez, bought the ammunition he used in the killing and then drove him to Glenwood Springs.
Law enforcement later found Salas-Jurado’s body, shot several times, in her apartment south of Glenwood Springs.
After the killing, investigators say that Olivo-Tellez and Castillo fled to Grand Junction, with Castillo retrieving cash from an ATM and attempting to get a hotel room under a friend’s name.
As for her driving to Denver to pick him up and purchasing the bullets, these were things she done in the past, such as for target shooting, and no criminal activity had come of it, said defense attorney Kathy Goudy. There were no indicators that this time would have been any different, she said. “She never took a life and had no part in taking a life.”
By the time Castillo knew about the killing, there was nothing she could have done to help Chula, Goudy said, using a nickname for Blanca-Salas.
District Attorney Jeff Cheney said the prosecution has a lot of circumstantial evidence pointing to Castillo having known that Olivo-Tellez planned to murder his wife, and that Castillo had assisted him in doing so. But because they only have circumstantial evidence, prosecutors believed that “reasonable minds” could disagree on whether it showed that she knew and intended to help Olivo-Tellez, making for a challenging prosecution at trial, said Cheney.
Castillo will probably never tell the truth of all the facts of that day, said Deputy District Attorney Matt Barrett. Castillo was initially charged and pleaded guilty to accessory to murder, but the DA’s officer rescinded her plea deal, believing she had not given a credible interview to investigators. And prosecutors then filed the first-degree murder charge against her.
Friends and family of Salas-Jurado were in attendance at the hearing Friday, which was called with little notice as the parties were finalizing the plea agreement late Thursday.
A lifelong friend of Salas-Jurado’s, Corina Minniti, said that the ripples of grief over her death have spread to all of her family and friends and to the entire community.
Chula was obviously “an incredibly bright light in our community,” said Barrett. “The resolution before the court allows the People to focus all of its attention on bringing the murderer to justice,” he said.
Olivo-Tellez, who investigators identify as the gunman, is also facing a first-degree murder charge. He is scheduled for a jury trial in May.
“Justice for Chula begins today, but it certainly doesn’t end,” said Barrett.