Columbus man pleads guilty in girlfriend's 2012 shotgun slaying

tchitwood@ledger-enquirer.comJune 3, 2014 

With his defense attorney calling Hardaway High sophomore Kayla Castro’s 2012 death “a tragedy all the way around,” Benjamin Diontae Brantley pleaded guilty Monday to fatally shooting his 16-year-old girlfriend with a sawed-off shotgun.

Initially charged with murder when police doubted his claim the shooting was accidental, Brantley pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter, aggravated assault and possessing an illegal weapon. Superior Court Judge William Rumer sentenced him to 15 years, with nine to serve in prison and the rest on probation.

Brantley will get credit for the time he already has spent in jail.

He has been jailed since 12:30 a.m. April 1, 2012, having surrendered to police hours after the shooting at his Wellborn Drive home. Recounting the incident before Brantley’s sentencing, Detective Amanda Hogan said Brantley, then 18, had been watching TV with Castro in his bedroom that Saturday after going out to dinner with her and her mother.

He had loaned the shotgun to his sister and asked her to return it. When she arrived at his home with the gun about 9 p.m., he left the bedroom to get it.

He returned with the gun in his right hand and closed his bedroom door with his left. That’s when the gun fired, Hogan said.

The 12-gauge, single-barrel shotgun blast hit Castro in the chest. When police arrived, she had been moved from the bed to the floor as Brantley’s family tried to administer cardiopulmonary resuscitation. She was pronounced dead there at 9:40 p.m., authorities said.

Hogan said Brantley fled because he hoped before his arrest to see a child he’d had with another woman.

His leaving Castro mortally wounded raised suspicion. So did his account of the shooting he insisted was an accident. The hammer on the single-shot gun had to be cocked to fire the weapon, and the trigger was rusty, Hogan said: A Georgia Bureau of Investigation weapons expert estimated it took 3 pounds of pressure to pull the trigger, and tests showed the 14-inch-long barrel was no more than 3 feet from Castro when the weapon discharged.

Brantley told detectives the gun was unloaded when he loaned it out, and he had no idea someone had put a shotgun shell in it when he got it back. He had never fired the weapon before, Hogan said.

He told police he thought the gun’s hammer was cocked when he brought the gun into the bedroom, but he did not recall touching the trigger, Hogan said.

Hogan and Senior Assistant District Attorney LaRae Moore said Brantley and Castro had been dating for about a year, and though friends said they sometimes argued, no one recalled any violent confrontations.

Reports that Castro planned to break up with Brantley were “just rumors,” Moore said: Investigators could find no motive for him to shoot Castro deliberately.

The shooting not only took Castro’s life and left her boyfriend jailed, but tore her family apart, Moore said: Castro’s grandparents wanted Brantley put away for life, but during a bond hearing for Brantley, Castro’s mother wanted him released.

Moore read a letter from Castro’s paternal grandmother, who at one point wrote: “The family wants no less than a 10-year sentence.”

The prosecutor also read a letter from Castro’s maternal grandfather, who wanted Brantley prosecuted to the full extent of the law, and said Castro’s death destroyed the family’s unity.

No one from her family came to the sentencing. Moore said Castro’s father left her mother when she was pregnant with Castro, and the mother now faces her own “personal issues,” which Moore did not specify.

Brantley’s defense attorney, Susan Henderson, said Castro’s grandparents never approved of their granddaughter’s interracial relationship with Brantley.

In her meetings with Brantley, he always seemed distraught over the shooting and wished he had been the one killed, Henderson said.

Castro was smart and well-liked, and those who knew her felt the loss deeply, Moore said: “She was by all accounts a bright young lady with a promising future.”

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