Courts & Crime

Teen pleads not guilty in drowning death of neighbor, 4

FRESNO, Calif. — After several delays, the 14-year-old accused of molesting and killing a 4-year-old Mendota boy pleaded not guilty at his arraignment Tuesday in Fresno County Superior Court.

Shackled around the waist and wrists, Raul Renato Castro stood in front of Judge Jon Nick Kapetan during the brief hearing.

He allowed his attorney, Barbara O'Neill, to speak on his behalf.

Kapetan scheduled a hearing for Dec. 15 so attorneys could agree on a date for a preliminary hearing. At the preliminary hearing, a judge will decide whether the evidence is sufficient for Castro to stand trial.

Kapetan granted Castro's request to let his older brother visit him in jail as long as the Fresno County Probation Department did not object.

After the hearing, both O'Neill and prosecutor Robert Romanacce declined to comment, as did family members of Castro and the victim, Alex Christopher Mercado.

Castro is being charged as an adult in the Oct. 30 killing. A court affidavit in support of his arrest warrant says Castro admitted that he lured Alex into his duplex apartment in Mendota and then molested him before drowning him in a bathtub. Alex's body was discovered in the apartment's dryer on Halloween.

Castro and Alex were next-door neighbors.

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