ALAMOSA — Lamberto Castillo, 66, who was living in Alamosa at the time of his arrest last year, pleaded guilty this month to manslaughter in connection with two killings that occurred in California in 1994.
According to the Orange County District Attorney’s Office, on November 16 Castillo pleaded guilty to two counts of voluntary manslaughter and was sentenced to 19 years and four months in state prison for the March 31, 1994, shooting deaths of Kenny Paul Sommer, 23, and Chen ‘Cosmo’ Maui Blanchard, 23, in Huntington Beach, California.
A high school teacher in the area at the time, Castillo confronted Sommer and Blanchard the evening of March 31, 1994, for urinating near Main Street and Orange Avenue in downtown Huntington Beach where the two young men were partying. Castillo, who was accompanied by a woman later identified as his wife, had not met the men before that evening. Castillo left and came back with a handgun later that night and shot both men multiple times before fleeing the scene, according to information from the Orange County DA’s office. Huntington Beach Police responded to reports of multiple shots fired and found the victims lying on the ground when they arrived at Main and Orange. Sommer and Blanchard were pronounced dead at the scene.
An off-duty police officer witnessed the verbal confrontation earlier in the evening but not the subsequent shooting, according to the DA’s office.
The case went cold over time, and Castillo left the area and continued teaching. Based on newly developed evidence, the Huntington Beach Police Department re-opened the case in 2016 and pursued the new evidence with the assistance of the Orange County Cold Case Homicide Task Force.
Also assisting in the investigation and subsequent arrest were the Orange County District Attorney Bureau of Investigation, Orange County District Attorney TrackRs, Orange County Crime Lab, Santa Ana Police Department, Pueblo Police Department, Colorado Attorney General, Colorado Bureau of Investigation, Alamosa Police Department, Colorado State Police Department, FBI and Alamosa County Sheriff’s Office.
Retired from teaching, Castillo was arrested without incident on April 27, 2017 in rural Alamosa County, where he had been residing for about 10 years. Castillo was initially charged with two felony counts of murder with sentencing enhancers including use of a firearm and special circumstances-multiple murders. On those counts he faced life in state prison.
Castillo has remained in custody in California since his arrest and extradition last year.
According to a report written by Sean Emery in the Orange County Register, Senior Deputy District Attorney Keith Burke told the judge during the November 16 plea hearing that he was seeking approval of a plea deal in this case because there was no forensic evidence tying Castillo to the scene and the person who could identify him as the shooter, Castillo’s wife, had invoked spousal privilege to avoid testifying against him. Rather than risk a verdict of not guilty at trial, Burke told Orange County Superior Court Judge Steven Bromberg that it was better to negotiate a plea deal with Castillo that guaranteed prison time.
The judge accepted the guilty plea, and Castillo verbally admitted in court to the killings.
Family members of the victims were apparently not happy with the plea deal and urged the prosecutor to proceed with the original charges.
Sommer’s mother Alice said, “I have lived in hell for so many years. I spent so much time wondering who and why. I believe we need to finish what we started, win or lose.”
Gina Vercnocke, the mother of Blanchard’s child, added, “I feel like it was a travesty of justice. I feel like we should have had our day in court. And I feel that was taken away from us.”