FRESNO, Calif. — When Raul Renato Castro was a baby, his father was convicted of molesting a 5-year-old relative and was sentenced to prison.
Now, 14-year-old Castro is accused of molesting 4-year-old Alex Christopher Mercado and drowning the child in a bathtub on Oct. 30.
There is no evidence that the Mendota teen was a victim of abuse, but researchers say the circumstances don't surprise them. In many cases, researchers say, a person victimized as a child becomes a perpetrator. It's a well-known cycle of abuse.
"I can guarantee he was a victim," said Eric Hickey, forensic studies director at Alliant International University in Fresno.
Hickey said the signs are evident: Castro confessed to luring Alex to the Castro home to molest him, authorities say. Castro said he decided to kill Alex after the boy said he was going to tell his mother that the teen had molested him, investigators say in court records.
"The key to me is that he focused on a child," Hickey said. "It's a power thing."
Hickey said Castro's confession shows that Castro "appears to be angry and needs to lash out," which Hickey said are classic signs of being sexually abused.
"There's rejection or abandonment issues going on, too," he said.
But Hickey -- an expert in the study of killers, sex offenders, habitual offenders and the criminally insane -- said it may be difficult to know for sure. Boys are four times less likely than girls to report that they have been victims of sexual abuse, he said.
"Killers have no trouble saying they have killed, but it's just too embarrassing for them to say they have been abused," Hickey said.
And while girls sometimes sink into depression after they have been abused, boys tend to get aggressive and search for a victim, he said.
Castro is being held in the Juvenile Justice Center campus south of Fresno. He will be arraigned Tuesday on murder charges in Fresno County Superior Court.
Legal experts say finding out whether Castro was a victim of abuse will be key to his defense. But even if he is a victim, the lawyer who defends Castro will have an uphill battle.
"He might get some sympathy, but there's a dead kid and a confession," said Fresno defense attorney Michael Idiart.
Idiart is a former Fresno County assistant district attorney and a criminal legal specialist certified by the State Bar.
Castro's age may gain him sympathy, too, Idiart said. But he said the teen's biggest obstacle is this: Most people who are victims of molestation don't go around killing children.
Jurors won't like Castro once they hear the details of his confession, Idiart said. Castro told sheriff's investigators that after he killed Alex, he checked the boy's pulse to make sure he was dead.
"It's a horrific crime," Idiart said. "He'll be lucky to get 25 years to life in prison."
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