A Superior Court judge declared a mistrial Thursday after the lead defense attorney in a murder trial suffered a heart attack and was hospitalized just two hours before opening statements were to begin.
Johnny Castro, 37, of Beverly Hills, is charged with killing a Westlake Village man in an alcohol-related accident on the Golden State Freeway in January. Castro had eight prior convictions for drunk driving. His attorney, Lawrence Boyle, was stricken around 8 a.m. Thursday and admitted to Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital in Valencia, where he was in critical condition, his secretary said.
News that Boyle had fallen ill came as a shock to jurors and courtroom observers who were expecting to hear Judge Meredith Taylor rule on a defense motion to suppress evidence before commencing opening statements. Instead, Taylor told jurors that Boyle’s absence required her to declare a mistrial.
“Although the word we hear is optimistic, it is clear that Mr. Boyle will not be able to serve on this trial for some time,” Taylor said.
Castro, who prosecutors say had at least eight convictions for drunk driving, was allegedly intoxicated and driving at speeds in excess of 100 mph when his Nissan struck a U-Haul trailer being towed by 22-year-old Mahdad Koosh near Castaic. The young engineer, who was completing the last leg of a cross-country drive home from college, died when the force of the collision caused his jeep to roll over several times.
During Castro’s March arraignment, Municipal Judge Norris Goodwin expressed dismay that Castro had managed to serve only a short time in prison, despite his drunk driving record. “I don’t know how he got out,” Goodwin said. “At some point in his career, he was aware that this type of behavior was dangerous.”
Although court officials confirmed that Boyle had a heart attack, Koosh’s father said he was skeptical that the illness was genuine because of the defense’s frequent attempts to delay the proceedings.
“If it is true, then I am sorry for him and for his family,” said Dan Koosh. “But if it’s just a game, it’s not going to work. [Castro] has gotten away with this too many times and we’re not going to let it happen this time.”
On Wednesday, Boyle said that Castro was not driving the Nissan at the time of the accident and that the California Highway Patrol had botched the investigation by excluding statements from witnesses that would have exonerated his client.
A pretrial hearing was set by Taylor for Aug. 27, when it will be determined whether Castro has a new defense lawyer who can proceed.