Appeals court upholds sentence in Sky Erickson case

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

The Iowa Court of Appeals on Wednesday upheld Juan Carlos Astello's Kossuth County sentences for first-degree kidnapping and second-degree murder.

The Estherville man was given a life sentence for kidnapping and 50-years in prison for his role in the murder of Gregory Sky Erickson on June 6, 1997. Erickson was from Estherville and was spending time in Spencer when he became involved with the Los Krazy Boyz gang two decades ago.

Juan Astello was a juvenile at the time and accompanied co-conspirators Luis Lua, Ryan Wedebrand and Ramiro Astello. Erickson was bound, gagged and repeatedly beaten at stops between Estherville and rural Jackson County, Minnesota. The teenager was fatally shot by Lua, the gang's enforcer, in the basement of an abandoned farmhouse near Petersburg, Minnesota.

Testimony suggests the gang was unhappy with Erickson about an unpaid drug debt. His role as a confidential informant for police also may have come to light.

Altogether, the Sky Erickson murder investigation led to 10 court cases at the state and federal level.

Some of the youngest members of the Los Krazy Boyz gang had their sentences reviewed in recent years due to a June 25, 2012, U.S. Supreme Court decision. The justices felt mandatory life sentences are cruel and unusual punishment for minors who were tried as an adult.

Wedebrand had his case reviewed in 2014 and was granted the possibility of immediate parole. Thomas Mann had his 50-year sentence reduced following a 2015 review.

Juan Carlos Astello had his sentence reviewed in 2015. He was also granted an immediate possibility of parole, but wanted the length of his sentence reconsidered.

"Astello contends he will not be given a 'meaningful opportunity' for release because the board of parole, more likely than not, will not grant him early release," Judge Christopher McDonald said in Wednesday's Iowa Court of Appeals ruling. "We cannot speculate as to what the board of parole may or may not do at some future date."

McDonald went on to cite an Iowa Supreme Court ruling related to juveniles who were tried as adults: "Even if the judge sentences the juvenile to life in prison with parole, it does not mean the parole board will release the juvenile from prison. Once the court sentences a juvenile to life in prison with the possibility of parole, the decision to release the juvenile is up to the parole board. If the parole board does not find the juvenile is a candidate for release, the juvenile may well end up serving his or her entire life in prison."

Wedebrand, 35, Mann, 36, and Juan Astello, 35, remain at the Fort Dodge Correctional Facility. Their cases are reviewed annually by the state's parole board.

The ringleader of the conspiracy, Estherville restaurant owner Juan Humberto Castillo-Alvarez, disappeared soon after the 1997 murder and remained at large in Mexico until September 2004. In 2011, he was convicted on two second-degree murder charges and one kidnapping charge in Jackson County, Minnesota.

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