Below are articles printed about
Mr. Biederman while he was an Assistant District Attorney. Mr.
Biederman uses the knowledge and trial experience he learned from
this time to aid in the defense of his clients.
Judge gives Castaneda life sentence
By DANNY GALLAGHER
Near the end of convicted murderer John Stephen Castaneda's sentencing
trial Friday, Collin County Assistant District Attorney Hunter
Biederman asked 416th District Court Judge Chris Oldner for
"I ask you to give the family
and [Patricia Himelright's] daughter some closure on this," Biederman said in his closing statement. "I think
they're entitled to it."
Oldner gave Castaneda a life sentence
for the shooting death of Himelright in November of 2003 at their
home in the 7700 block of CR 436 in Princeton. A jury convicted
him last March of murder in the first degree.
The trial took only a few hours to
complete with the state and defense calling three witnesses. Tanya
Wilsford, Himelright's daughter, and Sherry Timmons, an ex-girlfriend
who testified about Castaneda's abusive nature, appeared for the
state. Rhonda Shead, Castaneda's former neighbor, appeared on
behalf of the defense. Both sides offered brief closing statements.
Himelright's family was given a chance to speak to Castaneda following
Castaneda, appearing in court in
a dark green prison jump suit in a set of handcuffs chained to
his waist, showed very little emotion during the day's round of
testimony or the family's final statements.
Wilsford said she remembers her mother
as a very hard-working, feisty and compassionate person who she
was very close to.
"There is no way that has not
affected my life," Wilsford said. "The stress is enormous.
The pain is enormous. It's like having a hole left in you that
you can't fill. This should not have happened."
When asked by Biederman what
should be Castaneda's punishment, she responded, "I think
he should die" even though she said she understood a life
sentence was the maximum allowable punishment by the Texas Penal
"I don't think he should be
out among public citizens ever again," Wilsford said.
Timmons, who lived with Castaneda
in Garland, said she hadn't seen Castaneda since she moved out
of their McKinney apartment in 1989. The last time she had seen
him was in a local newspaper announcing him as the defendant in
a murder trial.
Timmons claims Castaneda "severely"
beat her for talking to a male neighbor after he came home from
a day of drinking. She also said he threatened to kill her while
holding a kitchen knife after his release from prison for a previous
Timmons said she contacted the Collin
County District Attorney's office after reading the story because
she said she knew Castaneda's violent tendencies.
"I knew he was a violent man
from my experiences, but I had no idea something like this could
happen to someone, someone's mother, someone's grandmother,"
Timmons said. "It was really, really horrible."
Defense Attorney James Whalen declined
to cross-examine either witness and the state rested. Whalon then
called Shead who knew Castaneda as her neighbor since 1999 and
said she regards him as a very nice person towards her and her
"He's always been very respectful
to me and my husband," Shead said. "In fact, they were
very close friends. He helped me with groceries and carrying clothes
into the washateria while I was pregnant and my husband was not
around. He's been like a brother to me."
During Biederman's cross examination,
Shead said she was unaware of Castaneda's previous arson conviction
or history of abuse.
"I'm very much at shock because
that's not the kind of person I know personally," Shead said.
During Whalon's closing statements,
Whalen said before Judge Oldner that anything longer than 20 years
in prison could be considered a life sentence considering Castaneda's
"So you have to ask, is Castaneda
worth saving?" Whalen said.
Whalon said Castaneda experienced
a traumatic incident from his childhood involving infidelity between
his parents, which came up for the first time during the course
of the trial.
"I think that incident with
his parents' infidelity is something John never dealt with and
I think it's why we're here today," Whalen said.
Biederman countered, asking
Judge Oldner "Is [Castaneda] worth saving or is society worth
saving?" He recapped Castaneda's past relationships and previous
drug, arson and DWI convictions and then asked Judge Oldner for
a life sentence.
After Judge Oldner announced Castaneda's
life sentence, members of Himelright's family spoke from the galley.
Several friends and family members expressed deep sadness and
longing for Himelright and extreme anger at Castaneda.
Jury finds Castaneda guilty of murder
By DANNY GALLAGHER
It took a jury of seven men and five women less than an hour to
find John Stephen Castaneda guilty of murdering his girlfriend.
Castaneda was found guilty in the
shooting death of his girlfriend, Patricia Himelright, 67, of
Princeton back in November 2003 at her home in the 7700 block
of C.R. 436.
He was turned over to the Collin
County Sheriff's Office, where he is being held without bail,
Tanya Wilsford, Himelright's daughter,
said she hopes Castaneda receives a life sentence. She said she
could not have been more pleased with the jury's decision.
"I'm thrilled," Wilsford
said. "I don't want him to have the opportunity to do this
to anybody else. He's evil, he's pure evil."
In their closing statements, assistant
district attorneys Hunter Biederman and John Schombuger
went through the different stories Castaneda gave to Collin County
investigators and the testimony given by Collin County Medical
Examiner Dr. William Rhor. "His intent was clear, his intent
was murder," Biederman told the jury.
"The only way you can prove
intent is through the surrounding circumstances," Biederman said. "The way this defendant acted was not of an innocent
Defense Attorney James Whalen reiterated
his opening statement, calling Himelright's death a "tragic
He also said Castaneda's lies were
understandable given the circumstances and his background of abuse
with other women.
"John lied and he told you why
he lied, because he didn't think anybody was going to believe
him," Whalon said.
"I wish John didn't lie, I wish
he would've just told the story, but he didn't."
Testimony by the state's witnesses
took up most of the trial while defense attorneys only called
three witnesses including a friend who was present at Himelright's
home before her death, Himelright's ex-husband and a physician
The state wrapped up Tuesday's questioning
of Collin County Sheriff's Sgt. Mitchell Selman, who interviewed
Castaneda just after Himelright's death. Prosecutors also finished
their questioning of Collin County emergency services personnel,
two of Castaneda's ex-acquaintances and the Collin County Medical
Both sides delved into Castaneda's
and Himelright's past charges and incidents of abuse. Selman said
he had investigated two previous cases involving Himelright, who
had called the sheriff's office on Castaneda but dropped the charges,
claiming they were "personal misunderstandings."
Deputy Mark Mitchell said he was
called to Himelright's residence on July 8, 2003 after Castaneda
allegedly pushed Himelright into a refrigerator and wall and stole
$200 from her home office.
"She actually said at one point that she thought he was going
to kill her," Mitchell said.
Jurors also heard from Castaneda's
ex-fiance, Deborah Sue Spohn, who said Castaneda abused her two
or three times while they were living together in 2000.
She claimed Castaneda had come home
upset about financial difficulties and started a fight with her,
eventually shoving her up against a door, swinging his fists and
hitting her on the left side of her face. After her mother called
police the following day, she decided she wanted to drop the charges.
The District Attorney's Office agreed to so provided Castaneda
go to counseling - which she said did not improve his behavior.
Castaneda's ex-wife, Theresa Smith,
also said on the witness stand that Castaneda had been abusive
toward her during the seven months they lived together. She said
Castaneda assaulted her at least 15 times and threatened to kill
her on a few of those occasions.
"He's got a horrible temper,"
Smith said. "He was very violent and I left him because I
was scared for my life."
Smith said she came forward because
she felt it was her "duty to do it."
Whalen asked if Smith assumed Castaneda
was guilty before she went to the District Attorney's Office.
She confirmed that. She said she did not know Himelright.
Meanwhile, the defense presented
two witnesses who attested to Himelright's demeanor both in her
relationship with Castaneda, and in a previous relationship.
Elizabeth Hortman, Himelright's friend,
was called to their house moments before the shooting and said
she witnessed Himelright arguing with Castaneda over a missing
checkbook, which Himelright thought Castaneda had stolen.
Hortman said she and her husband
went to Himelright's home at 8:45 p.m. Nov. 22 and saw Castaneda
gathering pillows and a sleeping bag so he could sleep in the
garage "because he didn't want to argue."
Hortman said Himelright told her
they had originally been fighting about sex, but the argument
escalated when Himelright could not find her checkbook, which
was missing when Himelright tried to give her a loan.
She said Himelright had been drinking
and retrieved a handgun from a filing cabinet and put it in the
kitchen. She said she did not think anything of it at the time.
Under cross-examination, Hortman
said she did not know why Himelright thought Castaneda might have
stolen her checkbook. She also described Castaneda's demeanor
as "very calm" while Himelright was angry with him.
The defense then called Mark Himelright,
Pamela Himelright's ex-husband. He described his ex-wife as a
"moody," "temperamental" and "difficult
person to live with."
Mark said his ex-wife learned how
to handle firearms from him, primarily handguns and revolvers,
and she had threatened him with a gun at least five times. He
said she once shot a tire on his car while he was trying to leave.
Under cross-examination, Mark Himelright
told Biederman he had not spoken to his ex-wife in at least
four years, saying their divorce was "unpleasant to say the
He said she had developed cancer
and underwent surgery after they split up.
He also said he never laid a finger
"It's very much against my beliefs
to hit a woman, but if I ever had, it would've been her,"
The jury also heard from Collin County
Medical Examiner Dr. William Rohr who performed the initial autopsy
on Himelright following her death. Rohr said the small caliber
bullet entered Himelright's head just below her left nostril.
The entry wound was difficult to see at first because of a skin
Collin Co. man convicted of murder
Thursday, March 17, 2005
By JENNIFER EMILY / The Dallas Morning News
McKINNEY - A Collin County jury Thursday convicted a 43-year-old
man of murder in the death of his 67-year-old girlfriend.
John Stephen Castaneda said he killed Patricia Himelright in self
defense after telling several lies about the circumstances of
her death to Collin County Sheriff's deputies, testimony showed.
The five-woman, seven-man jury deliberated for about 30 minutes
before reaching the verdict. A judge will sentence Mr. Castaneda
within 45 days for killing Ms. Himelright. He faces up to life
Tanya Wilsford, Ms. Himelright's daughter, said she was "thrilled"
by the verdict.
"I don't want him ever to have the opportunity to do this
to anyone else," she said with tears running down her face.
"He's evil. He's pure evil."
Ms. Himelright was a cancer survivor who had suffered from throat
and breast cancer. She used a device to project her voice because
her voicebox was removed during surgery.
She operated a vending machine business and employed Mr. Castaneda
to help her. He lived with her in a doublewide trailer in Princeton.
Investigators did not initially think Ms. Himelright was the victim
of a crime when she died in November 2003. There was no visible
gunshot wound and although blood came from her nose and mouth,
it could have been consistent with a death from natural causes
given her medical history.
But in his call to a 911 operator, Mr. Castaneda said her brains
were "blown out." He said he came home and found her
dead on the floor. Investigators later determined his statements
about not being home were untrue.
Not until performing an autopsy, did Collin County Medical Examiner
Dr. William Rohr discover the entry wound through her nostril.
James P. Whalen, Mr. Castaneda's attorney, said he thought Mr.
Castaneda's initial untruthful statements to police about being
with a friend for several hours the night she died hurt his client's
Mr. Whalen said he believes that his client acted out of self
defense when he shot Ms. Himelright. He said her death was a "tragic
accident." He said Mr. Castaneda lied because he didn't think
anyone would believe him.
Mr. Castaneda told investigators that he and Ms. Himelright struggled
with the gun after she threatened him with it. He said he threw
the weapon in Lake Lavon, but it was not recovered.
"Obviously, John's disappointed, and we're disappointed,"
Mr. Whalen said. "We believe in what he told law enforcement
[about defending himself] and we still believe that today."
In his closing arguments to the jury, Prosecutor Hunter
Biederman said Mr. Castaneda's repeated lies should prevent
them from believing anything the defendant said.
"He told these lies over and over and over," Mr.
Biederman said. "The way this defendant acted was not
of an innocent man."
Ms. Himelright's ex-husband Mark Himelright testified that she
threatened him with a gun several times in the 30 years they were
married. He also said she shot out a tire of his vehicle while
he was inside it.
He said she was good at pushing people's buttons to make them
"As much I may have wanted to in 30 years, I did not kill
her," he testified.
Mr. Castaneda's ex-wife and a former fiancée testified
this week that he was physically abusive toward them and had a
Both women called the police - as Ms. Himelright did when Mr.
Castaneda previously assaulted her. But all three women had the
previous charges dropped against Mr. Castaneda.
HERE to go to the Practice Areas page