DA to seek death penalty against man charged with murder, molestation

Daniel Contreras

Daily Post Staff Writer

The San Mateo County District Attorney’s Office announced yesterday (Jan. 8) that it will be seeking the death penalty for Daniel Contreras, who is charged with molesting and killing his girlfriend’s 17-month-old daughter in Redwood City.

It’s the first time the DA has sought the death penalty in 12 years.

“This is a particularly heinous case,” said Chief Deputy District Attorney Karen Guidotti. “It doesn’t seem to get much more vicious than this.”

Contreras, 28, was babysitting 17-month-old Evelyn S. Castillo on Aug. 6, 2015 and over the few hours he was babysitting her, he sexually molested the child, prosecutors allege.

When Evelyn would not stop crying, Contreras began to beat the toddler, resulting in multiple skull fractures, according to Guidotti.

Contreras claimed Evelyn had died after falling from a table. But the autopsy disputed Contreras’ story, according to the DA’s office.

The last time the DA sought the death penalty was in 2006. In that case, the DA convinced a jury to vote for the execution of Alberto Alvarez, who shot and killed East Palo Alto Officer Richard May.

DA’s internal decision-making process

The decision to seek the death penalty culminates nearly three years of discussions in the DA’s office. Three top prosecutors weighed the evidence before reaching the decision.
“We didn’t rush this decision,” Guidotti said.

Guidotti said that prosecutors invited defense attorneys to meet with them and make arguments against the death penalty.

Defense attorney James Thompson said the choice of the DA’s office to seek the death penalty is inappropriate because the death, he alleges, was accidental.

Another defense attorney invited to argue against the death penalty before the prosecutors was Richard Keyes, who has since resigned from the case.

Guidotti was firm in believing the decision to seek death was the right choice.

“I’m not sure where you’d seek the death penalty if not on a person who beats a toddler to death while sexually assaulting her,” Guidotti said.

‘Special circumstance’

In California, to be eligible for the death penalty, the defendant must have committed a first-degree murder that includes a “special circumstance” such as rape, other murders or arson or for gang purposes.

Contreras is one of four men being prosecuted in San Mateo County for the killing of a child, said Guidotti, but he is the only one eligible for the death penalty. Guidotti said this is because there is a special circumstance, the molestation of Evelyn, that makes him eligible.

In one of the other cases of a child being killed in the county, Adair Zevallos, 25, of East Palo Alto, who killed his girlfriend’s 2-year-old, because there are no “special circumstances,” he is ineligible for the death penalty but is eligible for life in prison.

There have been no executions in the state since 2006, because a judge ruled that the state’s lethal injection process violated the Eighth Amendment banning cruel and unusual punishment. In August, state officials submitted a proposal for a new lethal injection system, which if approved will allow for executions to potentially begin this year.

There are 747 inmates currently awaiting execution on death row, 12 of which received the sentence from crimes committed in San Mateo County.

In the November 2016 election, the majority of the county favored repealing the death penalty — with 57.5% voting yes on Prop. 62, which proposed repealing the controversial sentence, and 42.5% voted no, to uphold the death penalty.

Contreras is being held in jail without bail and will be in court again on April 12 for another attorney to be added to the case.