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Murder trial begins in fatal beating of Battle Ground toddler

Ricardo Gutierrez Jr. opted for bench trial

By , Columbian Assistant Metro Editor
3 Photos
Ricardo Gutierrez, who's accused of brutally beating and stabbing a Battle Ground toddler to death in May 2016, is pictured during the start of his bench trial at the Clark County Courthouse Monday January 29, 2018.
Ricardo Gutierrez, who's accused of brutally beating and stabbing a Battle Ground toddler to death in May 2016, is pictured during the start of his bench trial at the Clark County Courthouse Monday January 29, 2018. (Ariane Kunze/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

Ricardo Gutierrez Jr.’s defense attorney told a Clark County Superior Court judge Monday that there’s no doubt his client killed his girlfriend’s 3-year-old son in May 2016. But he argues the slaying was not premeditated.

The brutal, fatal beating of Jose “Pepe” Castillo-Cisneros on May 23, 2016, stemmed from months of Gutierrez’s frustration over the boy’s behavior, defense attorney Ed Dunkerly said during opening statements in Gutierrez’s murder trial.

That frustration, compounded with stress from long work days and financial concerns, led Gutierrez, 41, to snap.

“He lost it. …He did cause the death of Pepe Cisneros, there’s no question about that,” Dunkerly said.

Prosecutors say the slaying was planned.

In his opening statement, Clark County Prosecuting Attorney Tony Golik described the brutal beating in detail. He argued that the prolonged nature of the assault and statements Gutierrez reportedly made indicate he intended to kill the boy.

Pepe suffered multiple blows to his head and face, Golik said, and at one point during the beating, Gutierrez hurled him into a wall.

Pepe’s mother, Yadira Cisneros, tried to intervene but was also assaulted. Golik said she tried to reason with Gutierrez and told him, “You’re killing him.” Gutierrez responded with, “I know.” And when Cisneros told Gutierrez he would go to jail, he reportedly told her, “I know, and I don’t care.”

Golik told the judge that Cisneros and Gutierrez had “serious problems” in their relationship, namely that Gutierrez didn’t like Pepe and was jealous of him. He was not the boy’s biological father.

Pepe was developmentally delayed, Golik said, and the family believed he may have been autistic — though he had not been diagnosed. Pepe had difficulty talking and often communicated by screaming and yelling, he said. His outbursts reportedly annoyed Gutierrez.

Disturbing testimony

Cisneros took the stand Monday afternoon, presenting emotional testimony about the assault and a disturbing look at her relationship with Gutierrez.

Her eyes were locked on Gutierrez during much of her testimony, which prompted him at times to bow his head and look at his hands.

Cisneros testified that during the beating, Gutierrez told her he was “sick of (Pepe)” and wanted him to quiet down; he was going to make Pepe be quiet.

When she told Gutierrez he was going to kill the boy, she said, he replied, “Let the dog die.”

The couple shares an infant together who at the time of the attack was about a month old. Cisneros held the baby near Pepe’s head to keep Gutierrez from assaulting him further. She testified that she didn’t think Gutierrez would hurt his own child. But it didn’t stop him from coming after Pepe. The infant was not harmed.

At one point, Gutierrez had the house telephone, and Cisneros begged him to call for help. He repeatedly asked her if Pepe was still breathing. She said she told him no so he would stop assaulting him. However, when the boy made a sound, Gutierrez came after him again, she testified.

In the weeks before the beating, Pepe had tried to avoid Gutierrez. Cisneros said that Gutierrez kept trying to physically discipline the boy when he acted out. She never left Pepe alone with Gutierrez and instructed her daughter to never leave Pepe alone with him.

The couple had a rocky relationship. They were together for about a year and had their son in April 2016. Gutierrez left the family for a brief time shortly after the birth. Cisneros said that Gutierrez constantly accused her of cheating on him. He installed an app on her phone to track her whereabouts and often checked her phone messages.

He had promised her he would change and be less possessive, jealous and distrustful, but that didn’t happen, she said.

In addition to first-degree murder, Gutierrez is facing second-degree assault. He opted for a bench trial — meaning he waived his right to have a jury decide the case. Instead, Judge Robert Lewis will decide his fate.

The trial continues Tuesday with Cisneros resuming the stand for cross-examination. The trial is expected to last for about five days.