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W.Va. judge to handle Puerto Rican case

By Kate White, Staff writer

A federal judge from West Virginia will be in Puerto Rico next week to preside over a high-profile trial of a man who has already been convicted of murdering his wife.

U.S. District Court Judge Joseph Goodwin, of West Virginia’s Southern District has been assigned Pablo Casellas Toro’s case that involves allegations he lied to federal agents during the investigation of his wife’s murder.

Toro is the son of Puerto Rico’s U.S. District Judge Salvador Casellas, who was appointed in 1994 by President Bill Clinton.

Toro was convicted in January of murdering his wife and sentenced to 109 years in prison. He now faces three counts of making a false statement before his wife was killed. His trial is set to begin Monday.

The federal Intercircuit Assignment Committee appointed Goodwin last April after all district judges in Puerto Rico recused themselves.

Toro’s attorneys had asked Goodwin to grant a change of venue for the trial because of the massive media following.

Goodwin denied that motion and, court documents show, a preliminary pool of potential jurors has been chosen. Goodwin eliminated more than 160 potential jurors while he was in Puerto Rico earlier this month and found 35 people for attorneys to chose from, court documents show.

In their request for a change of venue, attorneys for Toro showed just how high profile the case is.

Toro’s arrest was broadcast live. “Every minute of every day” of his trial that lasted from Dec. 10 to Jan. 22 was shown live.

“Citizens celebrated outside the courthouse and an entire stadium of people attending a baseball game erupted into cheers upon news of the guilty verdict,” the request states.

The Supreme Court of Puerto Rico permitted Toro’s sentencing to be broadcast live on TV, Internet and radio. Television coverage of the verdict received the top rating for that month, according to Nielsen, an audience measurement system.

Some local attorneys called for Toro’s father to resign. He appeared at the scene of the crime the morning after the murder, the request for a change of venue states.

A magistrate judge in Puerto Rico had previously sealed Toro’s indictment on the false statement charges; however, Goodwin unsealed it despite a request by Toro’s attorneys for it to remain private.

According to the indictment, Toro lied about being attacked and robbed about four weeks before his wife’s murder.

On June 17, 2012, police responded to an alleged crime scene near a shooting range in Toa Baja, Puerto Rico, the indictment states.

Toro had alerted police that unknown assailants forced him to stop when they shot out the back window of his car. He claimed he was forced at gunpoint to move from the driver’s seat to the passenger seat. He told police, according to the indictment, that he had been shot in the arm and was able to escape through a shattered car window and hide.

Toro also allegedly told police that two guns he had in his trunk were stolen by the assailants, the indictment states. It was filed by U.S. attorneys from the Southern District of Florida, who were appointed to the case.

Toro’s wife, Carmen Paredes, was at the couple’s house on July 14, 2012, according to media reports.

Goodwin doesn’t handle many criminal cases in his home state, because his son is the U.S. Attorney. The judge has recused himself off all cases involving charges brought by prosecutors in Booth Goodwin’s office.

Goodwin’s calendar blocks off a week for Toro’s trial.

Reach Kate White at kate.white@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1723.


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