HILLSBOROUGH — The mother and sister of Alvaro Castillo took the stand in Orange County Superior Court today and described a household where the family patriarch reigned in a tyrannical style with strict rules and repeated violence.
Vicky Castillo, the widow of Rafael Huez Castillo, testified about a marriage that showed signs of trouble almost from the start.
On at least one occasion, the native of Madrid, Spain, returned to her homeland with her children, hoping to start anew and leave her abusive husband behind. Her family there, though, with their strong Catholic faith and aversion to divorce, sent her back to San Francisco, where she and her husband had started their life together.
At that time, Vicky Castillo testified, she resigned herself to a "life of nightmares, discussions, arguments" and not being able to have a cup of coffee because her husband believed her panic attacks to be related to the caffeine.
Vicky Castillo, 55, has suffered for four decades from depression and panic attacks. Mental illness, she testified, runs in her family. Siblings, grandparents and other relatives have been diagnosed with depression, schizophrenia, psychoses and other afflictions.
Defense attorneys have mounted an insanity defense for the only son of Victoria Castillo, Alvaro, who stands accused of murdering his father on Aug. 30, 2006, and opening fire on Orange High School, his alma mater.
The defense team has maintained that Alvaro Castillo, 22, suffers from mental illness so debilitating that he cannot be held criminally responsible for the crimes of which he is accused.
The testimony of the defendant's mother and sister comes in the seventh day of a trial that has drawn national attention. Alvaro Castillo, prosecutors and the defense team say, was obsessed with the 1999 Columbine school shootings Vicky Castillo testified this afternoon that she asked her son the day after the incident "Por que hacerlo," Spanish for "why did you do it?"
"He said, 'Mom, everything is going to be fine. Dad is in heaven with Tony, his parents," the mother testified this afternoon. "You can go to Spain whenever you like. Everything is going to be fine."
Tony was a son of Rafael Castillo from a previous relationship who had preceded him in death. Victoria Castillo, the older daughter of Vicky Castillo and second of her three children, spoke softly and matter-of-factly this morning about a father who came from humble roots in El Salvador with high ambitions and unusual regimens for his children.
Rafael Huez Castillo, an immigrant to this country who did not finish high school, expected his children to leave their childhoods behind at age 5, his daughter testified.
"He drilled it into our heads that we had to succeed," Victoria Castillo, 20, said. "No friends. We had to succeed at school."
After their fifth birthdays, Rafael Castillo would bring his children books about how to improve their memories, how to start a business, subjects that his daughter said more appropriate for adults.
He insisted that his children start their days with two glasses of water and fruit or vegetables and was opposed to them having meat or dairy products.
When they misbehaved, suffered typical childhood injuries or did something the father did not like, he would deliver "speeches." He wanted them to take cold showers and eat natural foods only.
Rafael Castillo's beginnings were in stark contrast to those of his wife, Vicky Castillo.
Vicky Castillo, 13 years younger than her husband with at least two years of college, was raised in Madrid, Spain, in a home where money was not an issue and maids cleaned the house.
When husband and wife disagreed, arguments erupted that some times escalated to violence. Victoria Castillo said her father would drag her mother down by the hair, smack her and on at least one occasion barricade her in the kitchen with a chair blocking the door.
"He couldn't take disobedience," Victoria Castillo said. "He wouldn't allow people to talk back to him."
When their parents argued, Victoria and Alvaro Castillo cowered, the younger sister usually in front of her older brother. "To me, it appeared that he was very anxious," Victoria recalled from the stand. "He would get scared. We would approach together to see the fights of my parents. He would always be behind me."
Before Victoria Castillo took the stand, Dr. Kyle Johnson testified about his encounter with Alvaro Castillo on Aug. 30, 2006, the day of the fatal shooting.
Castillo told the physician, in a flat, emotionless voice, that he had "sacrificed" his father that morning while he was in the chair reading the newspaper.
Medical examiner Deborah Radisch testified on Monday that Rafael Castillo suffered seven gunshot wounds, five from the eye to the cheek.
In the emergency room on Aug. 30, 2006, hours after Orange County deputies had arrested Castillo in the Orange High School parking lot, Johnson said he found the teen psychotic based on the audio and visual hallucinations he suffered and the paranoia he exhibited.
Johnson said Castillo told him about a twin he called Red who wore a military-style flack jacket and told him to kill. The teen also thought there were cameras and microphones in the hospital vents.
During the hour that Johnson and Castillo talked in the emergency room, the defendant made a distinction between murder and sacrifice.
"Sacrifice," Castillo told the doctor, "is an act of love."
"Murder," the teen added, "is an act of hate."
"He seemed to indicate he was helping someone," Johnson said.