Castillo pleads guilty in killings of his 3 children

He gets 3 life terms without parole in drownings at hotel

  • Dr. Amy Castillo hugs prosecutor Julie Drake. Her estranged husband, Mark Castillo, pleaded guilty today to drowning their three children at an Inner Harbor hotel last year.
Dr. Amy Castillo hugs prosecutor Julie Drake. Her estranged… (Baltimore Sun photo by Jed…)
October 15, 2009|By Tricia Bishop |

The odd and tragic case of Mark Castillo took another erratic turn Wednesday, when the 43-year-old father abruptly pleaded guilty to drowning his three young children in a city hotel bathtub, carefully timing their submersion with a stopwatch.

Castillo's unexpected guilty plea to the murders, which he calculated to punish his estranged wife, came after lawyers and court officials spent a week choosing a jury for his trial.

Baltimore Circuit Judge Wanda K. Heard found Castillo, who arrived in court in sweats and a T-shirt instead of his customary suit, mentally capable of entering the plea and sentenced him to three consecutive life terms without possibility of parole.

The judge recommended that Castillo serve the time at the Patuxent Institution, a correctional mental health center in Jessup.

"I was wrong," Castillo said during a brief statement to the court. He read a passage from Ecclesiastes 8:8 from a Bible the judge retrieved at his request: "No man has authority to restrain the wind with the wind, or authority over the day of death."

The plea came after a quick series of morning maneuvers, surprises and revelations, similar to those that have marked the past year and a half since the children were killed March 29, 2008. The Montgomery County man has repeatedly confessed, tried to fire his attorneys and to plead insanity, all of which he repeated Wednesday.

He declined to withdraw a January insanity plea, leading the judge to deem it still in effect, potentially doubling the trial time. Castillo also asked to dismiss his attorneys, which Heard talked him out of doing. He broke into sobs when the judge acknowledged some unidentified "abuse" he'd been subject to in lockup, before he ultimately asked to plead guilty. He was calm from that moment on.

That final decision spared his family and former wife, pediatrician Amy Castillo, weeks of having to relive the details of the murders. She was called to the courtroom from her hotel as the plea unfolded. In an impromptu statement before sentencing, Amy Castillo reminded the court of all she had lost when her ex-husband took the lives of their children.

Anthony, 6, was a mama's boy who never got to finish kindergarten, very smart and very loving, she said. Austin, 4, was a "wild kid, like his father" with a great sense of humor. Athena, 2, had just begun to talk.

"I never even got to hear what she had to say," Amy Castillo said, adding that she also lost a fourth person in the tragedy.

"I lost my husband," she said, once her best friend.

After 10 years of marriage, the Castillos wound up in a bitter divorce with Amy Castillo fighting unsuccessfully to persuade the courts to keep her children away from their father for their safety. Records show that he had twice been involuntarily committed for psychiatric care and had tried to take his own life, as he did again on March 29, 2008.

Before accepting his guilty plea, Heard asked Mark Castillo a series of questions meant to convince her that he knew what he was doing.

A medical evaluator had found him competent to stand trial earlier in the year, and Castillo said the finding was accurate when the judge asked about it. He gave his full name and the name of his high school in California. He said he accepted "full responsibility" for his actions.

"I understand I'll be in jail for the rest of my life," he said, not consulting his two public defenders, Joan Fraser and Natasha Moody, who the judge said fought aggressively on behalf of their client.

"He's an intelligent and articulate man," Heard said, finding Castillo competent and in possession of a "full understanding of the gravity of the offense and the seriousness of it and the sentence that will be imposed."

The horror of the drownings was detailed by Assistant State's Attorney Julie Drake, chief of the Felony Family Violence Division, who read into the court record a statement of facts.

Adhering to a Montgomery County visitation order, Amy Castillo released the children into their father's care that Saturday. He spent the day with them at the Maryland Science Center in the Inner Harbor, before checking into a reserved hotel room at the Marriott hotel on Eutaw Street, near Camden Yards. They ordered room service and ate, then Castillo distracted the boys with a video game and his laptop computer, while he took Athena into the bathroom.

"He undressed her, filled the tub with water, submerged her in the water, and held her down while she struggled," measuring 10 minutes by a stopwatch he hung on the towel bar, "to ensure that she would not recover," Drake read.

He tucked her into bed and repeated the process with Austin, who "kicked and struggled." And finally, with Anthony, who was bigger and stronger than his siblings, and suspicious. "The defendant indicated he had a sad, then scared look on his face," Drake said. Castillo held him underwater until he was still, then placed him beside the others and put the stopwatch in the baby's bag.

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