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Alleged dog killer's conviction overturned

Feb. 1, 2012 at 10:12 PM

SAN JOSE, Calif., Feb. 1 (UPI) -- A California appeals court has thrown out the conviction of a man who was sentenced to 36 years in prison for allegedly beating a dog to death with a hammer.

Alex Castro's conviction was overturned last week by a San Jose appeals court because his lawyer failed to have a handwriting analysis conducted on a letter prosecutors used as evidence, the Bay Area News Group reported Wednesday. The letter, which threatened a key witness in the case, was allegedly written by Castro, but handwriting analysis in a later case proved he was not the writer.

He was acquitted of separate charges of threatening a witness.

"Based on the evidence, we find but for counsel's failure to consult a handwriting expert to evaluate the letter, it is reasonably probable that the result of the trial would have been different," Presiding Justice Conrad Rushing said. "There is no question that confidence in the guilty verdict in this case has been undermined."

Deputy District Attorney Kevin Smith said he plans to retry Castro unless the attorney general's office appeals the decision in state Supreme Court.

"I am shocked at how little the actual facts of the first case made it into the opinion," Smith said. "I wouldn't try the case any differently."

Castro -- who had two previous violent felony and misdemeanor convictions -- was sentenced to 36 years in prison under the state's Three Strikes Law.

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