Chris Castillo remembers how he felt when he first learned his mother had been murdered.
He felt rage, he felt anger, and he wanted to go after her killers himself and hurt them. When he learned they had fled to Honduras and that the United States had no extradition treaty with that country, he felt even more anger. His mother, Pilar, a former Brownsville resident who was living in Houston when she died, had taught Castillo and his siblings so many things about life, and in a moment, she was gone. There was an empty space in his heart that could never be filled.
That was 20 years ago, and Castillo, a former Harlingen resident who now lives in Beaumont, has turned his pain into action. He’s the national outreach coordinator for Murder Victims’ Families for Reconciliation (MVFR), an organization that works to abolish the death penalty. He’s also contributes to Bridges to Life, whose members go into prisons and work to make inmates understand the impact of crime on victims’ families.
“It’s about a 13-week program and it’s about three hours once a week,” Castillo said. “They meet in small groups, so we get pretty intimate. The victims share their stories, and the inmates share their stories as well of how they got there … If they lost someone to DWI, had someone (been) taken through homicide, they share their stories as well.”
MVFR also partners with The Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty. He went to Brownsville in May to speak to a Catholic church and a United Methodist church that are members of that organization.
Castillo, who is Catholic, said he opposes the death penalty for a number of reasons.
“I guess one reason why I’m against the death penalty is because I feel that the amount of money spent on the death penalty is just astronomical,” he said. “It actually costs three to four times more for the death penalty than it does for life without parole and I really would love to see that money spent on cold cases and on victims’ services. I just don’t believe that taking another life will make any difference.”
Pilar Castillo’s case recently was re-opened to check for DNA evidence, but investigators found nothing. But police believe the people who were renovating his mother’s house entered the residence in the middle of the night, forced her to sign some checks, and then strangled her to death. The perpetrators then fled the country and cashed the checks internationally.
When Chris Castillo tells his story to inmates, they seem sympathetic.
“I think that it really has a deep impact on them because they all have a mother, and they all have brothers and sisters, and I think there’s a close bond between someone and their mother,” he said.
The people who killed his mother still haven’t been brought to justice. Castillo said he’d like see those involved held accountable.
“A lot of people are confused,” he said. “They feel like people who are against the death penalty want everyone let go, and that’s not really the case. But I feel like they should be held accountable. Right now we have life in prison without parole. I think that’s a suitable sentence.”