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2 undocumented immigrants get prison time in murder of 3rd in Michigan

A judge's gavel. (Dreamstime/TNS)

Two undocumented immigrants from Mexico will be spending years in the Michigan prison system for their roles in the stabbing death of a third immigrant.

Siblings Leobardo Torres-Castillo, 22, and Francisca Vargas-Castillo, 34, on the morning of Wednesday, June 26, appeared before Sanilac County Circuit Judge Donald A. Teeple for sentencing. The judge spoke slowly in addressing the defendants, with translators conveying his messages to them.

On the third day of their trial in May, the siblings pleaded guilty to tampering with evidence and concealing the death of an individual. Vargas-Castillo also pleaded guilty to second-degree murder, while her brother pleaded guilty to assault with intent to do great bodily harm less than murder. The convictions stem from the death of 42-year-old Bricia Flores-Rivera, also an undocumented immigrant from Mexico.

The pair’s attorneys stated neither defendant has a criminal record.

“This certainly is a situation where his sister is the main actor and my client, Mr. Torres-Castillo, frankly played a very small roll, after the fact, after the murder was committed,” said attorney Frederick Lepley. He added his client’s motivation in being in America was to work and support his family back in Mexico.

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“That’s still his focus today,” he said. “He wants to put his matter behind him.”

Through a translator, Torres-Castillo spoke to the judge.

“I apologize for everything that’s happened,” he said. “If you could please give me another opportunity to go forward in my life, I would appreciate that. I am remorseful and sorry for everything that happened and I apologize for it, and that’s all.”

Attorney Walt Salens, representing Vargas-Castillo, said his client comes from an impoverished family and has five biological children and two adopted kids. She has been working in the U.S. for about 10 years, the last five of which she spent employed at a Sanilac County dairy farm, sending wages back to her family in Mexico.

“She came to the United States to better her life and to better the lives of her children, because they’re totally dependent on her,” Salens said. “She’s realized the mistakes she’s made in this case and, if she could, she would take it back, but she can’t.”

A crying Vargas-Castillo said through a translator, “I apologize for the mistake that I made and I miss my kids very, very much.” She also said that she killed Flores-Rivera because she had tried killing her and her children.

Judge Teeple told both defendants that while they have no criminal record, they violated the most serious of statutes — the taking of a human life. He sentenced each defendant to the following three concurrent prison terms:

Vargas-Castillo

· 20 to 40 years

· 13 months to 10 years

· 330 days

Torres-Castillo

· Three to 10 years

· 13 months to 10 years

· 330 days

Both defendants received credit for 298 days served, applied to each term.

Khaalid H. Walls, an official with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), previously told MLive deportation proceedings wouldn’t begin until the brother and sister had served their prison sentences.

In the early morning of Sept. 1, Sanilac County Sheriff’s deputies responded to the 3900 block of Aitken Road in Flynn Township after a man reported Flores-Rivera, his girlfriend, was missing and that he found blood in their residence.

The Michigan State Police Crime Lab was called in to assist at the scene as well as at a vehicle located later that morning in Marlette from leads developed by investigators.

Police were led to Buel Township, approximately 20 miles from the original scene, and found Flores-Rivera’s body in a culvert on Sheridan Line Road.

Flores-Rivera had been beaten and stabbed numerous times.

A witness in a prior court hearing had testified Vargas-Castillo believed Flores-Rivera was trying to poison her children and seduce her husband and asked for her help in confronting the woman, according to The Times Herald.

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© 2019 The Saginaw News, Mich.

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.