By Dan Morse
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, October 15, 2009
After asking to read from the Bible and assuring a judge that he is sane, a Montgomery County man pleaded guilty Wednesday and was sentenced to life in prison for drowning his three young children, one by one, in a Baltimore hotel bathtub last year.
"No man has the right to restrind the wind with the wind, or the right over the day of one's death, and that's from Ecclesiastes 8:8," said Mark Castillo, 43, who interrupted jury selection in his trial to say he wanted to dismiss his two attorneys and plead guilty.
The plea was the latest in a series of unpredictable courtroom moves Castillo had made since his case began last year. Baltimore City Circuit Court Judge Wanda K. Heard, after asking Castillo a series of questions to gauge his state of mind, said she was certain he knew what he was doing and immediately sentenced him to three life terms without the possibility of parole, after a plea agreement Castillo had reached with prosecutors.
The bodies of Castillo's three children were found in March 2008 in a room at the Marriott Inner Harbor Hotel. Castillo also tried to kill himself by swallowing pills and stabbing himself in the neck with a steak knife. He told detectives that he had been going through a bitter custody battle with his wife, Amy, and that he killed their children partly to spite her.
Amy Castillo, a Montgomery County pediatrician who said she has kept her married name to honor her children, spoke in court Wednesday, telling the judge what the killings have done to her.
"I've lost four people," she said, breaking into tears while giving short descriptions of each child: Anthony, 6, was so smart; Austin, 4, was wild with a great sense of humor; Athena, 2, had just begun to talk, but Castillo couldn't understand her.
"The fourth person that I lost, that people forget, is that I lost my husband that I really loved and was my best friend for 10 years," she said. "I'm so thankful [that] my children don't have to stay dead, that they're with Jesus now and he's watching them, and that Mark and I will get to be there eventually, where we don't have to suffer in this world with this pain."
In an interview after the plea, Amy Castillo said she continues to suffer from flashbacks and nightmares.
"I dream that I get to see the children, and I get to hold them," she said. "But then I realize that they're dead."
Castillo's long, winding prosecution has had some strange moments. At a hearing last year, Castillo told a different judge that he did not trust his public defender and that he wanted to represent himself. "I've been trying to plead guilty for the last five months, and I've been prevented," Castillo said at the time.
An evaluation of Castillo found him mentally fit for trial, according to Wednesday's hearing.
The slayings received nationwide attention in the spring of last year. On March 29, Castillo took the children to Baltimore, spent the afternoon with them at a science museum, checked into the hotel and ordered room service, Baltimore police said.
In court Wednesday, after Castillo said he wanted to plead guilty, Baltimore prosecutor Julie Drake read a statement of facts to the judge that she said would have been presented at trial. Two of the children struggled in the bathtub, particularly the oldest one, she said.
"Six-year-old Anthony was bigger and stronger than the other two, and he was suspicious," Drake said. "The defendant indicated Anthony had a sad and then scared look on his face. So the defendant grabbed his hands behind his back, and put his knee and his weight onto Anthony's legs."
Heard said the "one thing right" that Castillo did was plead guilty, ending the frenzy surrounding the case. She said she would recommend that he serve his sentence in a prison that emphasizes mental health treatment.
"Mr. Castillo, I wish you well. I hope you resolve your matters between you and your conscience," Heard said. "And, as I can see, between you and your Lord."