By Raymond McCaffrey and Dan Morse
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, April 2, 2008
BALTIMORE, April 1 -- The Montgomery County man accused of drowning his three young children in the bathtub of a Baltimore hotel room was denied bail Tuesday and remained at a jail hospital after a court hearing during which officials said he was a suicide risk.
District Court Judge Nathan Braverman granted the prosecution's request that Mark Castillo, 41, be evaluated as a potential suicide risk and advised his public defender that Castillo could face the death penalty for charges that include three counts of first-degree murder in the deaths of Anthony, 6, Austin, 4, and Athena, 3.
An agent from the Maryland corrections system told the judge about suicidal behavior by Castillo in 2006, last year and again Saturday night after he allegedly killed his children in the hotel.
Castillo was not in the courtroom, having waived his right to appear at the bail hearing at the Baltimore Central Booking and Intake Center.
Braverman scheduled an April 29 preliminary hearing for the case, which resulted from the type of custody battle that experts say is becoming far too familiar.
Public defender Natasha Dartigue Moody argued that bail should be set because Castillo had no criminal convictions and no intention of avoiding prosecution. Moody portrayed a man who was a loving stay-at-home father before his separation from his wife.
But prosecutors said Castillo represented "a significant risk to public safety," said Margaret Burns, a spokeswoman for the Baltimore state's attorney's office. Burns said prosecutors had not decided whether to seek the death penalty against Castillo.
Baltimore Police Detective Donny Moses said an autopsy was pending on the bodies of the children, although police have ruled their deaths a result of drowning, based on statements from Castillo and evidence at the scene.
Police say Castillo told them that he submerged the bodies of his sons and daughter in the tub one by one, then placed them, naked, in a bed. He said he then swallowed 100 Motrin tablets and stabbed himself in the neck repeatedly with a steak knife before drifting into unconsciousness, police said. Castillo awoke 19 hours later and realized that he had botched his suicide, police said Tuesday. He told investigators that he killed the children 2 1/2 hours before the deadline to return them to his estranged wife's Silver Spring home.
Amy Castillo, 42, a pediatrician, had fought in court to limit her children's contact with their father, who has a history of mental problems. The legal fight between the couple stretched to July 2006. Amy Castillo was granted a limited divorce, according to a Feb. 19 docket entry. But that occurred after Mark Castillo filed for a limited divorce, in which a couple can still call themselves husband and wife but are living apart.
In a custody hearing last summer in Montgomery County Circuit Court, Mark Castillo frustrated Judge Michael Mason, who said he thought Castillo was having trouble controlling his anger during the hearing.
"You have limited ability to control yourself," Mason told Castillo. "You're very excited. You talk very fast. You get very, very upset. Your therapist even talks about it. You have difficulties in controlling your anger. . . . I'm trying to decide whether or not it is in the best interest of the children, which is what my concern is. Not you, not her. . . . But you are just totally blind to that; you can't see that."
But Mason also said a therapist had been working with Mark Castillo for six months. At the hearing, Mason told Amy Castillo that the therapist "suggests that he has difficulties for which he is still seeking treatment and they do impact on some areas of his life." But, Mason said, "the difficulties do not pose any threat or danger to the children."
An expert in killings of children, Richard J. Gelles, said he is sympathetic to the challenges faced by judges and psychologists involved in such cases.
"Psychiatrists can't predict the ones who do this without making a lot of false positives," said Gelles, dean of the University of Pennsylvania School of Social Policy and Practice, whose books include "The Book of David: How Preserving Families Can Cost Children's Lives."
"The trouble is that hindsight is perfect," Gelles said. He added that a lot of child custody fights coming before judges turn nasty, with futures difficult to predict.
The Castillos had lived together in a brick split-level house from 2001. On Tuesday, cars packed the driveway of the home. A sign posted on the door asked for respect for Amy Castillo's privacy.
Staff writer Daniel de Vise contributed to this report. Morse and de Vise reported from Montgomery County.