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  • Jim Ferraro

Donna Castillo Takes the Stand

Immediately following the conclusion of opening statements, Donna Castillo nervously took the stand. There was no recess between the opening statements and her testimony. It was definitely “game on.”

I took a slow, deep breath and started off by asking Donna simple background questions about where she lived, her age, and her occupation.

She explained to the jury that she worked as a preschool teacher’s aide in West Palm Beach, making around $5 an hour. She worked every day from 7:30 a.m. until 2 p.m., teaching a general preschool curriculum. Going back to teach full-time as she did when she and Juan lived in Miami simply wasn’t a viable option ever since she had given birth to Johnny.

“My son needs me. I really couldn’t dedicate myself in the same capacity as I could when I was a full-time teacher. Being an aide allows me to devote myself to him when I get home from school,” Donna said, her voice trembling.

If she had gone back to work full-time, she would be making significantly more money—at least $30,000 a year, if not more. The financial and emotional strain on her family was obvious.

I asked Donna to share with the court how she had discovered she was pregnant with her son. She told us she took a home pregnancy test in November 1989. She and her husband, Juan, had been trying to conceive another child and were hoping Donna was pregnant. From the moment the news was confirmed, she took excellent care of her body as most expectant mothers would, not smoking or drinking alcohol.

Baby John Castillo was born at South Miami Hospital on June 15, 1990. The Castillos were jubilant, as one might expect new parents to be. Immediately after Johnny’s birth, Donna held him against her bare chest. A mother’s love is indescribable at that moment of bonding when she holds her newborn in her arms for the very first time. She looked down at her son and, for a split second, thought his eyelids looked rather puffy. It never occurred to her that there could be something dreadfully wrong with his eyes.

The labor nurse took John from Donna’s arms to wash him and administer the silver nitrate drops that are placed in all babies’ eyes. John was crying a lot, perhaps more than normal. Certainly more than Donna recalled her daughter, Adrianna, crying when she was born.

“Is something wrong?” Donna called out.

But no one answered amid the flurry of activity in the delivery room. I continue the story of her ordeal in my next post.

You can find the full narrative of the trial in my book, Blindsided , from which this post is adapted.


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