Columbus Detective: 'Examining the shotgun, there was no way it accidentally went off'

Benjamin Diontae Brantley, accused of murder in the weekend shooting death of his 16-year-old girlfriend, has a history of anger issues and a juvenile record that includes a battery charge, police testified Tuesday in Columbus Recorder’s Court.

Police say Brantley, 18, fatally shot Hardaway High School sophomore Kayla Castro inside his Wellborn Drive home about 9 p.m. Saturday. Brantley turned himself in hours later and appeared Tuesday in Recorder’s Court, where he pleaded not guilty to charges of murder, possession of a sawed-off shotgun and possession of a firearm during the commission of a crime. Senior Judge Michael Cielinski then ordered Brantley held without bond.

Testifying Tuesday in Recorder’s Court, Detective Amanda Yates said Brantley told police the shooting was accidental. Yates said that was not possible.

“Examining the shotgun, there was no way it accidentally went off,” Yates testified.

The shooting happened inside Brantley’s bedroom, where he and Castro had been watching TV after Castro’s mother took them both to dinner that night, Yates said. Brantley had lent the shotgun to his sister at some point for protection, but had asked for it back, intending to sell it.

Brantley left his bedroom to get the shotgun when his sister arrived at the Wellborn Drive home. He then returned to his room with the weapon.

Brantley was about 5 to 7 feet from Castro when, holding the shotgun in his right hand, he closed his bedroom door with his left hand. The shotgun then fired, the detective said.

The blast from the 12-gauge, single-barrel sawed-off shotgun struck Castro in the chest, killing her. The handle had to be cocked for the gun to fire, Yates said.

“He did not know how it went off,” Yates added. “As far as he knew, it wasn’t even loaded.”

Someone called 911, and dispatchers were told a weapon had fallen to the floor and someone was shot in the chest. When officers arrived, they were told Brantley was holding the shotgun when it went off, Yates said.

Officers also learned that Brantley had fled the home before their arrival, the detective added.

Castro had been moved from the bed to the floor by that point so CPR could be performed. She was pronounced dead at 9:40 p.m. at the Wellborn Drive home, authorities said.

Police then issued warrants for Brantley’s arrest, and his family told Yates he’d turn himself in to police. Brantley was booked into the Muscogee County Jail about 12:30 a.m. Sunday.

Brantley then spoke with police.

“They never fought,” Yates said Brantley told her. “If they did fight, it was over minor stuff.”

However, Yates said a number of people contacted police after the shooting about Brantley’s history of anger issues and his juvenile record.

Brantley also has an adult record. State Court records show Brantley was charged March 31, 2011, with possession of marijuana and traffic violations. Brantley was in a deferment program in which he was to complete 80 hours of community service and pass random drug tests over three months. If he completed that, his drug charge would have been shelved and Brantley then would have pleaded guilty only to the traffic offenses, said Suzanne Goddard, chief assistant solicitor general.

Brantley finished only 40 hours of community service before failing a drug test. The drug and traffic charges still are pending, Goddard said.

Explaining Tuesday why the murder charge would stand, Cielinski discussed the requirements for someone being charged with the lesser offenses of voluntary manslaughter or involuntary manslaughter.

A voluntary manslaughter charge requires that someone kill because of a “sudden, violent and irresistible passion.” Cielinski said that didn’t exist in Brantley’s case.

Police can charge someone with involuntary manslaughter in two different ways. It’s a felony when someone has no intention to kill but causes someone’s death while committing a misdemeanor.

Possession of a sawed-off shotgun is a felony, meaning the felony offense of involuntary manslaughter can’t be applied.

Involuntary manslaughter is a misdemeanor when someone causes another’s death while breaking no laws. That also doesn’t apply in Brantley’s case, Cielinski said.

Wearing shirts with the words “Free Benny” and “RIP Kayla,” Brantley’s friends and family ran from the courtroom after the hearing. A crowd of Brantley’s supporters surrounded a woman as she wailed outside of Recorder’s Court.

A group of Castro’s family left the courtroom about 10 minutes later.

“I think a lot of people know Kayla,” said Evans Castro, her grandfather. “She had a lot of friends. She’s going to be missed by a lot of people.”