Annals of New Jersey Crime, Part 2

Yesterday’s post described the murder of Atlantic County, N.J., man John Kingsbury and the flawed investigation into his death, in which martial arts gym owner Michael Castro was the chief suspect.

Castro’s Day—Make that Decade—in Court

On April 5, 2013, 15 months after John Kingsbury’s murder at his Atlantic County home, the county prosecutor authorized charges of murder and felony murder against Michael Castro. While Castro languished in jail for 15 months, his lawyer diligently picked apart the prosecution’s case. He made plenty of holes in it, and a judge dismissed the murder indictment in June 2014.

In January 2016, the investigators obtained a second murder indictment. By that time, new evidence suggested that two people connected to Castro’s martial arts gym might have committed the crime or participated in it, further muddying the waters. Castro wasn’t jailed this time, but required to wear an ankle monitor for the next 15 months.

A man known to both Castro and his friend Lauren Kohl (whose missing gun apparently was the murder weapon) was driving Kohl’s Jeep Wrangler back and forth near the Kingsbury home shortly before the murder occurred there, and his alibi for the actual presumed time of the murder didn’t hold up. Investigators waited another 19 months to confront him about these actions.

A teenager whom Reporter Rebecca Everett describes as “Castro’s martial arts protégé” matched a witness description of a person seen near the house. He had no alibi for the afternoon of the death. Again the investigators dawdled, and when they asked for the youth’s cellphone data two years later, the company no longer retained it. By May 2017, prosecutors believed they could not win the case against Michael Castro and dropped the charges.

Impact on Michael Castro

Years of uncertainty had taken a toll on Michael Castro. He’d filed a civil rights lawsuit in 2015, put on hold when the second indictment came down. After the dropped charges, his lawyer dug in, finding in his investigation of the investigation “a pattern of deliberate misconduct.”

Such suits rarely succeed, but in 2021, a U.S. District Judge decided the problems were big enough that a jury should decide. New shortcomings in the investigation emerged—failure to document meetings, text exchanges, and steps in the investigation, including interviews and the results of a photo lineup. Those flaws were on top of the mishandling of evidence, inadequate case preparation, and damaging delays.

In a rare outcome in such suits, Castro received a $5 million settlement.

And in the Court of Public Opinion

Castro made a 37-minute YouTube video posted August 2021. In it, he talks about his initial surprise at being considered a suspect, his arrest more than a year later, and his months in jail and with the monitor. He talks about his abusive mother, his absent stepfather, the ten different schools he attended, his military service and resultant PTSD, and his persistent financial problems. Twice accused of murder, yet never convicted, he can’t escape public suspicion.

Says the dead man’s son, Glenn, “The whole thing’s awful. And it’s gonna go on till the day I die. And in theory, it may go on till the day my children die.”

Did Michael Castro get away with murder, or is he another victim?

Parts 1 and 2 of this story are based primarily on reporting by Rebecca Everett for the Trenton, N.J., Times.

4 thoughts on “Annals of New Jersey Crime, Part 2

    • The subjects of the $5 million lawsuit included the prosecution’s investigators, apparently a rarity. The early ones in charge have all retired now. Lauren Kohl was promoted to sergeant in the Camden County Sheriff’s Office, and is now a lieutenant.

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