JACKSON - A man who is serving a life sentence for conspiracy and kidnapping resulting in the 1997 death of 15-year-old Gregory Sky Erickson spent the afternoon on the stand in Jackson County District Court, answering questions from Minnesota Assistant Attorney General Matthew Frank about events leading up to Erickson's murder and the involvement of defendant Juan Humberto Castillo-Alvarez, also known as Ricardo Castillo.
Ramiro Astello is now 31 years old, and once lived in the farmhouse in Petersburg Township, Jackson County, where the body of Erickson was discovered. At the time of the murder, he was living in Estherville, Iowa, with his younger brother. Although he was not part of the Los Krazy Boys gang, his brother and many of his friends belonged, including good friend Luis Lua.
According to his testimony, Astello accompanied Lua on trips to the home or restaurant of Castillo-Alvarez, where Lua would get drugs to sell.
"He would put them in carry-out bags and make them look like food," Astello said.
He was also with Lua the day his friend first came into possession of the Lorcin .380 handgun he later used to shoot and kill Erickson.
"(Lua) stole it from a gun show," Astello explained, adding that he later saw his friend file the serial number off the gun. "He sold it to (Castillo-Alvarez.)"
Since Lua allegedly stole the gun without a clip, Castillo-Alvarez asked him to get a clip for the weapon - a conversation Astello said he witnessed. He also drove Lua to pick up the clip and said Lua told him afterward he was required to sign a name to purchase the clip, so he signed the name of Astello's uncle.
Erickson had been fronted a pound of marijuana by Lua, and Astello said he had driven Lua to pick to pot up from Castillo-Alvarez. Later, when Erickson was arrested and the marijuana and some money seized, Lua told Astello he was tired of Castillo-Alvarez harassing him over the drug debt.
On the night of Erickson's murder, Astello told the jury he had worked at his construction job quite late and didn't get home until about 8 p.m. As he got home, his phone rang. It was Lua, looking for Astello's younger brother and a ride.
"He said it would be quick," Astello stated. "He said he had Sky."
Astello and his brother both got in Astello's car and went to Lua's home. Astello went into Lua's room, where he found Lua and Erickson. The teenager had his hands tied behind his back, Astello said. Lua told him he wanted to take Erickson to talk to Castillo-Alvarez. As they left the room, Lua took a pillow with him.
At Castillo-Alvarez's restaurant, Astello waited inside while Castillo-Alvarez got in the car and spoke with Erickson. When Astello asked Castillo-Alvarez what was going on, he was told they were supposed to take the teen out, give him and beating and make him walk back into town.
"He said Lua would tell us what to do next," Astello told the jury.
They picked up two others, drove to a lake landing and beat Erickson. Astello admitted on the stand that he kicked the boy several times.
"I thought that was what was supposed to happen," he replied in response when Frank asked why he had participated.
Lua participated in the beating, then took the Lorcin handgun out of the waistband of his pants. Astello said he stopped Lua.
"He told me he had to kill him," Astello said. "He said (Castillo-Alvarez) had told him he had to kill (Erickson)."
Castillo-Alvarez hadn't told him the truth, Lua told him, because they were afraid he wouldn't go along with the plan and he was the only available driver.
"Lua told me Castillo-Alvarez was afraid (Erickson) would tell on him to authorities," Astello stated. "He said he was told by (Castillo-Alvarez) we should probably just leave him somewhere in Minnesota, somewhere farther from Estherville."
Lua then removed a garbage bag from the trunk, put it over Erickson's head down to his waist, and several of them put the teenager in the trunk. They headed north toward Minnesota, with Astello going where Lua told him to go.
"You had been there before with Lua?" Frank asked.
Astello had taken Lua along to the farm place in Jackson County where he had once lived when he had returned there to purchase a vehicle.
They got to the abandoned house, took Erickson out of the trunk and brought him down into the basement.
"Why did you go along?" Frank asked.
"I didn't know what else to do," Astello replied.
For light, the men removed Erickson's hat and started it on fire. Astello said Lua grabbed the pillow he had brought along, took out the gun, then pulled his signature red bandana out of his pocket and tied it around the teen's mouth.
"I still didn't think it was going to happen," Astello said quietly, head down. "I heard gun fire, I turned around and saw Sky on the floor."
After placing the pillow over his head, Lua had shot Erickson in the back of the head. On the way back to Estherville, Astello said, Lua threatened them, stating the same thing would happen to any of them if they talked.
The following day, Astello said he went to Castillo-Alvarez's restaurant and asked him if what Lua had told him was true. Had he really given Lua the plan to shoot Erickson? According to Astello's testimony, Castillo-Alvarez said it was true. Erickson was to be beaten, killed and left in Minnesota.
"He was afraid Sky would rat on him," Astello testified. "He had noticed a lot of police around his house and restaurant lately."
Astello had several more conversations with Castillo-Alvarez before he was arrested in connection with the murder, he reported. He told the jury about a conversation in which Lua was told to get rid of evidence left behind at the farm house - he wanted shell casings removed and the house burned.
Castillo-Alvarez'z restaurant was searched twice, and after the first search Castillo-Alvarez told Astello he wasn't concerned about authorities finding the gun because it was well hidden. During the second search, however, he asked Astello for ride.
"He asked for a ride to his house to pick up some stuff," Astello told the jury. "He needed to leave and pick up some stuff and go to Mexico. I took him to his house and dropped him off."
"Did you ever see him again?" Frank asked.
"No," Astello replied.
His testimony will continue today, when cross examination by defense attorney Louis Kuchera begins.
Benjamin Alden, who is now 32 years old, also testified Wednesday. He told the jury he agreed to testify against others after Erickson's murder in 1997 in order to receive a substantially shorter sentence. Alden served eight years in prison.
"Why did you agree to cooperate with authorities" after being arrested, Frank asked.
"I didn't think it was right, what they did to Sky," Alden responded. "We were friends."
Alden said he and Lua were friends and partners, both were members of the Los Krazy Boys, and he knew Lua was upset when Erickson's drug debt became an issue.
"He said (Castillo-Alvarez) was upset and was going to have his head for it," Alden said.
Alden was not present when Erickson was killed, but purchased the bullets for the handgun and helped kidnap the teen from an apartment. He later helped hide other guns and leftover ammunition. He had ended up with Erickson's pager, which he later tossed in a river when Erickson's father called over and over.
"I already knew he was dead," Alden told the jury. "It was guilting me, and I couldn't take the beeper going off. I didn't want it."