Montgomery Father Tries to Plead Guilty; Exam Ordered

Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, August 23, 2008; Page B10

The Montgomery County man accused of drowning his three children in a Baltimore hotel bathtub said in court yesterday that he wants to plead guilty, part of his persistent, teary-eyed and at times rude remarks during a pretrial hearing that prompted a judge to order him examined to determine whether he is mentally fit to stand trial.

Mark Castillo, charged with three counts of first-degree murder in the March 29 deaths of his children in a 10th-floor room of a Baltimore Marriott, told Circuit Court Judge Gale E. Rasin 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, his legs chained and his hands cuffed behind his back.

"You know what? I'm going to stop you right there," the judge said, concerned that Castillo might not be aware enough of his surroundings to participate in his defense.

Minutes later, Castillo repeated his request. "I just would ask you to allow me to enter a pro se appearance so I can enter a guilty plea," Castillo said. "Pro se" is a legal term referring to a defendant representing himself.

The mental health evaluation will push Castillo's trial back at least until next month. If doctors determine that Castillo cannot adequately communicate with his attorneys or participate in his defense, he would be transferred to the state's Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

From there, he would be treated, and if his condition improved, he could stand trial. In such cases, prosecutors have argued that belligerence toward attorneys does not equate to mental illness.

Castillo has told investigators that he used a stopwatch while submerging his children -- ages 2, 4 and 6 -- for 10 minutes each to kill them, doing so at least in part to hurt his estranged wife, Amy Castillo, with whom he was involved in a protracted custody battle in the Montgomery court system, according to sources with knowledge of the investigation.

Castillo was led into a fifth-floor Baltimore courtroom shortly after 2 p.m. yesterday, wearing white sneakers, gray pants and a yellow and blue striped polo shirt. He appeared to have a scar on his neck, which is where police say he repeatedly stabbed himself with a steak knife after killing his children in an attempt to kill himself.

Castillo carried his own papers and was led to a standing position between two defense attorneys. Rasin brought up a letter the defendant had written to her from jail in which he stated he wanted to discharge his attorney. The judge told Castillo that the fact that he wrote to her and not to the court clerk made the letter unofficial and was an indication of the perils of representing oneself.

"Let me start out by commenting that you didn't even know how to file this motion properly," Rasin said, stressing that she was not trying to make fun of Castillo. "Are you sure you want to discharge your lawyer and try to represent yourself in a case that I would describe as a case that couldn't be any more serious?"

"Ma'am," Castillo responded, "are you stating that because of a lack of my physical ability to come to court and file it was inappropriate compared to mailing it?"

"No, you could have mailed it to the clerk's office," Rasin said. "I'm just trying to point out the obstacles."

Castillo told the judge that he and his attorney "just don't agree on the same defense," saying he did not approve of her initial pleading in May that he was not criminally responsible by reason of insanity. At one point, he said a representative from the public defender's office does nothing but "lie . . . to me."

The insanity plea was withdrawn at Castillo's request, according to court records.

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