Last August, a Honduran court ruled David Castillo would finally face trial on charges he planned the 2016 murder of environmental activist Berta Cáceres.
The decision came more than two years after his arrest. It was followed by another nine months of appeals and delays. Finally, on April 6, 2021, a panel of judges calls the trial to order.
Prosecutors promise they’ll prove Castillo, a U.S.-trained ex-army intelligence officer, worked for years to terrorize and undermine Cáceres, who led an opposition movement against a dam being built by Castillo’s company, DESA, in western Honduras. Government witnesses include people who worked alongside Cáceres, police investigators and telephonic experts who extracted thousands of text messages from her phone, as well as those of DESA officials and others allegedly involved in planning her brutal killing.
Castillo has always maintained that he and Cáceres were friends, and that he had nothing to do with her death. But prosecutors call a woman named Rosalina Dominguez to the stand. She lives near the dam site and was one of Cáceres’ most loyal allies in the fight to stop its construction. Dominguez tells the judges that Cáceres had confided in her that if anything bad ever happened to her, “it’s David Castillo’s fault.”
Week after week, witnesses for the prosecution work to hammer home this idea. Their most important evidence will be new telephone recordings and text messages that, they maintain, connect Castillo to the crime.
But as the trial progresses, defense lawyers seek to sow doubt in the credibility of the government’s witnesses. Investigators willfully manipulated those messages, Castillo’s lawyers contend, to make it appear as if they were solving the crime. At the same time, the government ignored other evidence that points to the real murderers, the defense argued.
“Serious irregularities were committed,” Juan Carlos Sanchez, one of the attorneys representing Castillo, told the judges. David Castillo, he concludes, is the victim of a state-sponsored conspiracy.