200131-yh-news-domesticviolencehomicides-4.jpg

In this file photo dated Tuesday, Dec. 11, 2018, Jaime Munguia Alejandre looks toward the gallery as he exits Yakima County Superior Court in restraints in Yakima, Wash. Alejandre was found guilty of second-degree murder and unlawful disposal of a human body.

A state appellate court panel upheld a Granger man’s murder conviction in the death of his wife.

Judge Robert Lawrence-Berrey, writing for the three-judge panel of the Spokane-based Division III Court of Appeals, said there was sufficient evidence that Jaime Munguia Alejandre and Marie Gonzalez-Castillo were family members, and a prosecutor’s question about whether Alejandre spoke with police when he was arrested was a harmless error.

Alejandre was convicted in 2018 of second-degree murder and unlawful disposal of human remains in the June 2017 death of his wife. Prosecutors said Alejandre killed Gonzalez-Castillo by striking her in the head with a rifle butt and then burning her body in a backyard burn pit.

He was sentenced to 27½ years in prison, nine years above the maximum standard-range sentence because the crime involved domestic violence.

In his appeal, Alejandre argued that prosecutors failed to prove that Gonzalez-Castillo was his spouse, which meant the domestic-violence aggravating factor would be thrown out. Alejandre also said that a prosecutor engaged in misconduct by asking a Yakima County sheriff’s sergeant if Alejandre talked to detectives when he was arrested.

During the trial, Alejandre’s attorney tried to have a mistrial declared because the jury could be prejudiced by the question of whether Alejandre exercised his constitutional right to remain silent. Judge Gayle Harthcock rejected the request on grounds that Sgt. Mike Russell didn’t answer the question because of the objection.

Lawrence-Berrey said Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Brandon Crawford’s question was improper, but said it was a harmless error in light of the other evidence that established Alejandre’s guilt.

As for the question of Alejandre’s relationship with Gonzalez-Castillo, Lawrence-Berrey said the state only had to prove that they were members of the same household or family, and that numerous witnesses and even Alejandre’s attorney said Gonzalez-Castillo was Alejandre’s wife.

Reach Donald W. Meyers at dmeyers@yakimaherald.com or on Twitter: donaldwmeyers, or https://www.facebook.com/donaldwmeyersjournalist.