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Case of Hardin County kidnapping suspect now in hands of jury

The prosecution and defense both gave closing arguments Monday morning in the trial of Charles Castle, who is charged with kidnapping a 7-year-old girl.

KENTON, Ohio — Jurors in the Charles Castle kidnapping trial had the case summed up for them with closing arguments Monday morning, on the sixth day of the trial. By just after 2 p.m., the fate of Castle was in their hands.

Here’s a summary of some of the key pieces of evidence presented in the case and the arguments made during testimony, opening statements and closing arguments.

Access to the girl, who was 7 years old at the time:

Prosecution: Charles Castle was a longtime family friend, who had spent nearly every day at the family’s house in the months prior to the kidnapping. He and his wife had separated, and he was living in a camper behind his mother’s home, just a few blocks away. He ate dinner with the family almost nightly, sometimes parked outside in his minivan to access the wifi, and would have known some window panes in the front door were broken out, allowing anyone to reach inside and unlock and open the door.

Defense: Castle was not the only man to have visited the family in recent months. The family also knows some of Castle’s male relatives, which is a key argument related to some DNA evidence. Much was made during testimony about the girl’s father owing money to another man, who has similar features to Castle and also owns a minivan.

DNA evidence:

Prosecution: The focus is on three key findings. Castle’s DNA was found on the little girl’s neck, allegedly because he choked her. The girl’s DNA was found mixed with Castle’s own DNA in the interior crotch of his jeans. On the girl’s genitals was a mix of her DNA and that of another, narrowed down to a male member of the Castle family. A standard STR test can often narrow down DNA to the exact person, or identical twin, to a probability of 1 in 1 trillion. In this case, the DNA evidence from the other person was insufficient for a standard STR test, so a Y-STR test was performed. That focuses on the Y chromosome, which is only found in men. That test determined the DNA found on the little girl was from a male member of the Castle family, but it could not be narrowed down any further than that. 

Defense: A DNA test can only prove the existence of someone’s DNA, not how it got there. An expert witness testified that DNA transfer is possible, meaning the DNA could have been picked up in an innocent manner, by touching a surface, etc., and then transferred somewhere else. The defense argues that could be the reason the little girl’s DNA was found on Castle’s jeans, especially given that he had such close contact with the family and was often in the family’s home. Also, given that the DNA found on the other little girl could only be narrowed down to a member of the Castle family, it cannot be proven Castle is the man responsible.

Surveillance video:

Two cameras placed on a home near where the little girl lived captured video leading up to when the girl went missing and the moment she was taken. While the video from one camera is dark and hard to make out at times, a law enforcement witness testified that two figures, one tall and one shorter, can be seen leaving the home and getting into a minivan just before 11:30 p.m. on Nov. 10, 2021. A separate camera shows what appears to be a gold minivan driving away from the home toward the home of Charles Castle. The expert witness testified that the gold minivan, with what appeared to be part of a hubcap missing, matched the one owned by Castle.

Defense: Because the video is not clear enough to determine the identities of those figures in the video it’s impossible to prove Castle was responsible. The defense attorney also argued it could not be absolutely proven that the gold minivan seen in the video belonged to Castle. Another focus was on the difference in height between the taller figures seen in two of the videos. In a daytime video showing Castle and his van, it appears he is roughly a head taller than the top of the van. The nighttime surveillance video appears to show a man only roughly the same height as the top of the van. Another man in town, who was briefly questioned by authorities and who shares similar features with Castle, also owns a minivan and is roughly a head shorter than Castle.

Charles Castle's story:

Prosecution: In his initial interview, Castle said he had gone straight home to bed. Then adjusted that story to add in a visit to a cousin, a stop at a store and a visit to the local quarry. What he never admitted to was stopping at Rite Aid to purchase liquor, which was captured on surveillance video, and going to a private party, where he was captured in pictures by a fellow party-goer. He repeatedly said he had no idea where the little girl was, even when pressed about the need to find her because of falling temperatures. 

Defense: The changing story was not addressed in depth by the defense. But the defense attorney did argue that, once law enforcement narrowed in on Castle as the suspect, other possible suspects were not thoroughly investigated. That included further questioning of the man who shares similar features as Castle, also owns a minivan, and allegedly is owed money by the little girl’s father. There also was other DNA evidence that was never tested.

Little girls’ story:

Prosecution: Medical experts describe the little girl showing signs of incremental disclosure when it comes to sharing her trauma. She had physical evidence, including ligature marks on her neck and petechiae on her face, that proves she was strangled. But her story changed throughout interviews about how it was done. She described at various times being choked by hands, by tape and by a lamp cord. When she was first discovered in the basement, she told her rescuers the man responsible was named Charlie. In later interviews, she described her kidnapper as Chuck, a common nickname for Charles Castle. 

Defense: If the little girl’s story has changed on exactly what happened to her and by whom, the rest of her story should be called into question. The girl also has never said in interviews that she was sexually assaulted in any way. While the girl said she was taped up and kept in the closet of the camper, saying she was there when her father came to ask about her the morning it was discovered she was missing, there was never any DNA evidence found in the closet, camper or minivan that would place her there. 

Signs of sexual assault:

Prosecution: The little girl’s DNA was on the inside crotch of Charles Castle’s jeans. The DNA of a Castle family member, not narrowed down to Charles Castle himself, was found on the little girl’s genitals. 

Defense: Medical experts testified that there were no obvious injuries to the little girl’s genitals. The redness observed could be attributed to the fact that she had been wearing urine-soaked underwear for quite some time.

Charles Castle is facing 16 charges: seven counts of kidnapping, three counts of tampering with evidence, rape, felonious assault, endangering children, burglary, attempted murder and breaking and entering. He has pleaded not guilty to all charges.

The jury broke for the day just after 5 p.m. and was due back in court at 8:30 a.m. Tuesday.

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