Raul Castro was 14 years old when he confessed to the crime. He's 15 now, but Action News is showing his face because he's being tried as an adult.
Elsa Castro has always believed her son did not kill their 4-year-old neighbor, Alex Mercado, even after finding the body in her own clothes dryer. But her faith was clearly shaken Monday when she heard her son admit to the crime for the first time.
A day after Mercado's disappearance sparked one of the biggest search efforts ever in Mendota, investigators checked the Castros' home. They say Elsa Castro cooperated, right up to the point when she opened her clothes dryer.
"She started screaming uncontrollably and at first, I didn't know what she had seen," said Fresno County Sheriff's Deputy Matt Hamilton. "She was bent down when she opened the dryer, so she saw what was inside."
Mercado's partially clothed body was in the dryer. The 4-year-old had no pulse.
Investigators say Castro's 14-year-old son, Raul wasn't even a suspect in Alex's death until partway through an interview with detectives. After almost an hour of questioning, the teenager admitted he killed the younger boy.
"Who put the little boy in the dryer?" detective Sergio Toscano asked him.
"I did," Raul Castro replied.
Castro said he lured Alex into his apartment, had sexual contact with him, then panicked when the boy threatened to tell on him.
"You didn't want to get in trouble?" Toscano asked Castro.
"Yeah," Castro said. "I didn't want to get in trouble."
"And that's when you decided to drown him?" Toscano asked.
"Yeah," Castro said.
Castro told detectives he carried Alex's body to the clothes dryer, put him in, and then hoped it would all just go away. Instead, the search for Alex led to Castro's home and started his mother on a downward spiral. She cried through the confession, and later told Action News she feels the pain of two mothers.
"I know it's hard for them," Elsa Castro said. "But it's especially harder for me because I saw what I saw and then my son's over here [on trial]."
Raul Castro sat calmly in court, reading a transcript of his own words as the confession played. His attorney claims he didn't understand his right to remain silent before talking to police, but the judge disagreed.
Castro faces 50 years to life in prison if the judge finds him guilty.