A former Las Vegas gang member pleaded guilty Friday to fatally shooting a San Marcos woman whose body was found dumped down the embankment of a North County road last year.
Authorities say Paul R. Castro was paranoid and on a five-day methamphetamine bender when he when he shot Antonia Herrera as they drove down Interstate 15 near unincorporated Escondido early Jan. 11, 2017.
Castro pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter and an allegation that he used a gun, Deputy District Attorney Keith Watanabe said. Castro is expected to be sentenced to 21 years in prison next month.
The defendant reportedly has bipolar and schizophrenic behavior, with a documented history of paranoia, and often spoke of believing that people — including drug cartels — were out to kill him, according to court documents and testimony.
Witnesses said the killing happened when 23-year-old Herrera, her boyfriend and Castro were passengers in a car driven by another friend. They were headed from Las Vegas to Herrera’s San Marcos apartment.
According to testimony at a preliminary hearing last year, Castro was quiet during the drive. At one point, Castro asked if anyone in the car was planning to kill him.
Before dawn, as the car neared the freeway exit for her apartment, Herrera told Castro that they would be driving through a heavily wooded area.
Herrera, who’d been cuddling with her boyfriend in the back seat, made the comment to help calm Castro. But her attempt at reassurance had the opposite effect.
Castro, in the front passenger seat, suddenly grabbed a semi-automatic handgun, racked the slide, turned around and opened fire, according to testimony last year.
Herrera was shot three times, including a fatal bullet through her heart.
Castro forced his friends to stop so he could dump Herrera’s body, which was found later that afternoon, down an embankment along Champagne Boulevard outside Escondido.
The three men drove back to Las Vegas. None of them told authorities what had happened until San Diego County Sheriff’s homicide detectives tracked them down a few weeks later.
Castro’s sentencing hearing is set for June 15.