Lexie Castile, 20, died of gunshot wound to head in September 2012. Defense claims she killed self, while DA says her fiancé killed her. Trial for defendant, Anthony S. D’Onofrio, set for June 2024.

Ed Palattella
Erie Times-News
Published 12:52 p.m. ET Nov. 6, 2023

More than 11 years ago, Anthony S. D’Onofrio told Erie police that his 20-year-old fiancée, Lexie Castile, fatally shot herself in their converted garage apartment on West 24th Street in September 2012.

D’Onofrio, now 35, is remaining firm in that explanation as he heads to trial on a charge of first-degree murder — a charge Erie police filed against him in July after reinvestigating a case that had been dormant for years.

Following D’Onofrio’s formal arraignment in Erie County Common Pleas Court on Monday, his lead lawyer, Chad Vilushis, said he intends to bring the case to trial, and that the defense will be that Castile killed herself.

“Unfortunately, Lexie Castile took her own life in 2012, and we fully expect a trial to show that,” Vilushis said.

The Erie County District Attorney’s Office is remaining firm in its theory of how Castile was killed. District Attorney Elizabeth Hirz, the lead prosecutor in the case, said at the arraignment that she will seek a conviction for first-degree murder, an intentional homicide. D’Onofrio also is charged with the first-degree felony of aggravated assault.

D’Onofrio pleaded not guilty at the brief arraignment before Judge David Ridge, who is assigned the case. Ridge set a tentative trial date for June 2024.

D’Onofrio, who was living in the state of Washington when he was charged, remains in the Erie County Prison with no bond set because he is accused of first-degree murder. D’Onofrio was quiet at the arraignment, as is typical for such proceedings.

What is some of the competing evidence in the case?

D’Onofrio is accused of shooting Castile in the head above her right ear as the two and their toddler son were in their apartment in the 1100 block of West 24th Street, between Raspberry and Cranberry streets, in the early morning of Sept. 16, 2012. Investigators charged D’Onofrio on July 7 following a review of the case by cold-case investigators with the Erie police and the Pennsylvania State Police.

Hirz declined to comment after the arraignment. At D’Onofrio’s preliminary hearing, in September, she presented evidence that she said supports a charge of first-degree murder. Vilushis at the hearing argued the evidence supported a suicide.

Vilushis at the hearing pointed to evidence that he said backed D’Onofrio’s initial claim that Castile killed herself.

Castile was found on the floor next to a bed in the apartment, and a gun was found on the bed, according to the criminal complaint and testimony at the preliminary hearing. Police said D’Onofrio told investigators that he had told Castile to move out of the apartment, and that she said she could not live without him.

Police said D’Onofrio told investigators that he then heard a “pop,” turned on the lights to the apartment, looked down at Castile and yelled to his mother, who lived in another part of the residence, that he thought Castile had killed herself. D’Onofrio called 911.

Castile’s DNA was found on the trigger and grip of the gun, according to evidence presented at the preliminary hearing. The District Attorney’s Office at the hearing said testing for presumptive gunshot residue on D’Onofrio’s hands was positive, and that another test found gunshot residue to D’Onofrio’s T-shirt.

The District Attorney’s Office is also relying on evidence about the path that the bullet followed. The bullet entered by Castile’s right ear at a slight upward trajectory and exited by her left ear, according to police testimony at the preliminary hearing.

For the bullet to follow that path in a self-inflicted wound, the positioning of the gun would have had to been extraordinary and atypical, the police said, citing a supplemental report on the case by Erie County’s forensic pathologist, Dr. Eric Vey.

Erie police Lt. Ken Kensill, of the police’s Identification Unit, testified at the preliminary hearing that he had tried to recreate the positioning of the gun for a self-inflicted wound, but could do so only if he did not grip the gun properly or could not reach the trigger.

In a possible preview of an exchange at trial, Vilushis cross-examined Kensill at the hearing.

Kensill agreed with Vilushis that, in terms of the positioning of the gun, atypical does not mean impossible.

Contact Ed Palattella at epalattella@timesnews.com. Follow him on X @ETNpalattella.