Father seeks to plead guilty to killing children

August 23, 2008|By Melissa Harris | Melissa Harris,Sun reporter

A Montgomery County man charged with drowning his children in the bathtub of an Inner Harbor hotel told a judge yesterday that he has been trying to plead guilty to the crimes for five months but that his public defenders have blocked him from doing so.

Mark Castillo, 42, asked Baltimore Circuit Judge Gale E. Rasin to permit him to fire his public defenders and represent himself.

Earlier this summer, Castillo instructed his attorney to withdraw his plea of "not criminally responsible" - Maryland's equivalent to an insanity plea - which a judge granted in June, according to court records.

When Castillo began to discuss his desire to plead guilty, Rasin cut him off.

"I don't think any lawyer would do what you said you wanted your lawyer to do on your first trial date," Rasin said.

Rasin put the case on hold for 10 days so that court medical staff could determine whether Castillo is competent to stand trial, and if so, whether he's competent to represent himself. Once that happens, a new trial date will be set.

Rasin warned Castillo that if he were to represent himself, Maryland law would afford him "no special treatment."

You would "be at a serious disadvantage," she told him. "You would be presumed to know the rules of procedure and the rules of evidence."

Rasin pointed out that Castillo did not properly file his motion asking to represent himself with the court clerk's office and that he sent her another request for changes in his mail and visitation rights, over which she had no control.

"You didn't even know how to file a motion properly in a case that couldn't be more serious," Rasin said.

In May, Assistant State's Attorney Julie A. Drake filed her intent to seek a penalty of life without parole.

Prosecutors have not filed an intention to seek the death penalty, but with this delay, a new window opens for them to do so.

A judge has signed a gag order in the case, preventing attorneys from speaking about it to the media.

Castillo is charged with three counts of first-degree murder in the deaths of Anthony, 6; Austin, 4; and Athena, 2, whom he confessed to drowning one by one at the Marriott Inner Harbor hotel in late March and placing naked on a bed.

Castillo then tried to kill himself by swallowing 100 Motrin pills and cutting himself in the neck, police said.

Authorities believe the violence was an act of revenge against his estranged wife, Dr. Amy Castillo, after a bitter custody and divorce battle.

Amy Castillo had reported her husband's threats to kill their children to Montgomery County authorities.

Castillo, however, retained visitation rights, despite a court-ordered psychological evaluation that diagnosed him with "mood and narcissistic personality disorders and borderline and histrionic personality traits."

At Castillo's request, his public defender, Natasha D. Moody, interrupted and then canceled a psychiatric evaluation to determine the validity of Castillo's now-withdrawn insanity plea.

During the hearing yesterday, Castillo complained that Moody was withholding his mail and preventing his wife from visiting him in jail.

He said that his lawyers had lied to him and were "BS-ing him." At times, he seemed to be crying. At one point, he looked for someone in the gallery and said, "I'm sorry."

Moody told Rasin that at the beginning of August something "went awry" with Castillo and he became unreceptive to her advice.

For instance, Moody said, her client was under the "misconception" that she had control over his visitors and mail. Moody also said that at one time state prison officials were holding him in a medical unit at the city jail where he was not permitted to have any property.

Castillo told Rasin that three public defenders - Moody, Joan Fraser and chief felony public defender Bridget D. Shepherd - have attempted to speak to him at various times, but that he rebuffed their efforts.

"I wasn't interested in their help," he said.

melissa.harris@baltsun.com

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