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Teen convicted of molesting, drowning boy

/ Source: The Associated Press

A California teenager accused of molesting and drowning a 4-year-old neighbor boy and hiding his body in a clothes dryer was convicted of first-degree murder Friday.

A judge also found 15-year-old Raul Castro guilty of lewd and lascivious conduct, and sodomy. The judge found Castro not guilty of two counts of kidnapping.

Castro was tried as an adult in the October 2009 killing of Alex Mercado. Castro was 14 when he drowned the preschooler in a bathtub after the child said he would tell his mother about the sexual assault.

The Mendota teen confessed in taped interviews with detectives to luring the 4-year-old into his house, sexually assaulting him, laying on top of him in the bathtub to drown him and then stuffing the boy's body into the clothes dryer.

Castro's defense attorney, Barbara Hope O'Neill, argued the teen was mentally ill and did not intend to kill Alex. O'Neill based her argument on the testimony of a psychiatrist who said Castro's mental illness led him to disassociate with reality.

The doctor testified that Castro has a history of depression, suicidal behavior, hallucinations, bipolar disorder and anxiety. He also said the teen had suffered physical abuse as a toddler by his mother's boyfriend. Castro had an out-of-body experience as he killed and sexually assaulted Alex, psychiatrist Avak Albert Howsepian said.

But prosecutor Robert Romanacce challenged the doctor's credibility. The murder was premeditated, the prosecutor said, and Castro was in a clear state of mind at the time.

County Superior Court Judge Jonathan Conklin decided the case after Castro waived his right to a jury trial.

As the verdict was read, the teen's mother, Elsa Castro, wept. She declined to comment.

In a statement read in front of the courthouse, Mercado's mother, Mindy Mercado, said the verdict could not bring back Alex.

"I see that there is no justice, because all I really would want is to have him here with us," she said. "I'm still unsure how I'm supposed to live without him."

Castro could face 35 years to life in prison with the possibility of parole.

Sentencing is scheduled for June 24.