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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.

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Judge gives Castaneda life sentence
By DANNY GALLAGHER
McKinney Courier-Gazette


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 one thing.

"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 his sentencing.

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 Code.

"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 arson conviction.

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 husband.

"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 age.

"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.

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Jury finds Castaneda guilty of murder
By DANNY GALLAGHER
McKinney Courier-Gaazette

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, awaiting sentencing.

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 man."

Defense Attorney James Whalen reiterated his opening statement, calling Himelright's death a "tragic accident."

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 on Wednesday.

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 Examiner.

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 least."

He said she had developed cancer and underwent surgery after they split up.

He also said he never laid a finger on her.

"It's very much against my beliefs to hit a woman, but if I ever had, it would've been her," Mark said.

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 fold.

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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 in prison.

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 credibility.

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 angry.

"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 horrible temper.

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.




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