A Chilling Self-Portrait Emerges in Drownings

Mark Castillo is charged with murder in the deaths of his children, Anthony, Austin and Athena, who were drowned in a Baltimore hotel.
Mark Castillo is charged with murder in the deaths of his children, Anthony, Austin and Athena, who were drowned in a Baltimore hotel.
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By Dan Morse
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, August 22, 2008

The Montgomery County man accused of drowning his three children one by one in a Baltimore hotel bathtub this year has told investigators that he used a stopwatch to time their 10-minute submersions and that the two older children, ages 4 and 6, struggled as he held them underwater, according to sources with knowledge of the investigation.

Mark Castillo's trial, scheduled to begin today, is expected to be delayed as attorneys on both sides prepare their cases. Still unclear is whether Castillo's defense attorney will argue that he is insane.

The court-appointed attorney, Natasha Dartigue Moody, filed such a plea in May. But in June, a judge withdrew it at Castillo's request. Castillo has said, both during the slaying investigation and during an earlier child-custody battle in Montgomery, that he does not consider himself mentally ill.

According to Baltimore police, Castillo traveled with his three children to the city on March 29, checked into the Marriott Inner Harbor hotel, killed the children and then apparently tried to kill himself.

Castillo stabbed himself repeatedly in the neck with a steak knife and swallowed upward of 100 tablets of Motrin and Aleve, according to court records and sources who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the case is pending. At one point, he called the front desk for permission to check out late to give the pills more time to take effect, sources said.

Castillo is charged with three counts of first-degree murder and other crimes and is being held in the Baltimore jail.

If the case goes to trial, statements Castillo allegedly gave to authorities are likely to be used against him. Soon after police and rescue workers found the children dead inside Room 1060, Castillo repeatedly implicated himself and gave a tape-recorded confession, according to a sworn statement by Detective Robert Ross.

Castillo has given investigators a detailed account of what he allegedly did with the children, according to sources. After each drowning, they said, Castillo carried the body to one of the beds, pretending the child was asleep. In the end, the naked bodies of Athena, 2, Austin, 4, and Anthony, 6, lay in the same bed, according to court records.

The sources said Castillo has told investigators that he is evil and that he wants to be put to death. He also said that he thought about the killings for months and that before he killed the children, he spent at least 24 hours planning how to do it, according to sources.

Moody, Castillo's attorney, said through a spokeswoman at the Baltimore public defender's office that the trial will not start today but that a hearing will be held in the case. She declined to comment further. Margaret Burns, a spokeswoman for the Baltimore state's attorney's office, declined to comment, citing a gag order in the case.

The state's attorney's office has not filed notice that it will seek the death penalty, which it is required to do 30 days before the start of the trial, according to court records. The children's mother, Amy Castillo, has said it is "probably more practical" to seek a sentence of life without parole than the death penalty, because executions tend to be delayed in Maryland.

Mark Castillo has given authorities indications of motive, an apparent combination of his wanting his wife to suffer without her children and his conclusion that the world was no place for him or his children to live anymore, according to sources. At times, he has shown deep affection for his children and has lamented to authorities that their deaths were horrible for them to endure.

According to sources, Castillo said the idea to kill his children might go back to his 21-month custody battle with his wife. In late 2006, Mark Castillo told his wife that the worst thing he could do to her was kill the children, Montgomery court records show.

By early this year, Mark Castillo was filing a string of legal requests in Montgomery courts. On March 25, he asked the court to "punish" Amy Castillo "for her games." In two or three days, according to sources, Castillo had hatched a plan to kill his children during his visitation, using the Internet to book a hotel room in Baltimore.

Sources said Castillo told investigators that he and his children traveled to Baltimore and spent the afternoon at a science museum before they checked into the Marriott and ordered room service. Castillo said he had the oldest child, Anthony, play a computer game, figuring the game would keep the boy occupied, and took the youngest, Athena, into the bathroom, according to sources.

Castillo told authorities that he set the stopwatch before he submerged Athena, sources said. At one point, the middle child, Austin, walked toward the bathroom and said he loved his sister and wanted to see her, according to this account. Castillo said he pretended nothing was wrong and was able to keep Austin away, according to sources. It wasn't clear whether Austin suspected anything or simply wanted to see his sister.

According to the sources, Castillo said he toweled off his daughter's body and carried her to the bed. Then he brought Austin into the bathroom, sources said. Austin tried to fight, Castillo told investigators, but Castillo held him down as the stopwatch counted 10 minutes. According to sources, he then placed Austin in bed and took Anthony to the bathroom.

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