A verdict on violence

August 26, 2009 

Prosecutors and defense attorneys agreed on one thing regarding Alvaro Castillo, the 22-year-old man who will serve a life term for the murder of his father and other crimes: he is mentally ill, and seriously so. Castillo's story played out in dramatic fashion in a Hillsborough courtroom last week, but in the end, the jury seemed to reach the inevitable verdict in finding him guilty.

Judge Allen Baddour said he would recommend that Castillo get mental health treatment in prison. That's good, for this was a tragic tale indeed, in which earlier treatment might have helped.

As related in the course of Castillo's trial (his attorneys were seeking a verdict of not guilty by reason of insanity) his father, Rafael Huez Castillo, ruled the household with an iron hand. His son was clearly disturbed. At one point he talked his mother into taking him to see the site of the infamous Columbine school shooting of 1999 in a suburb of Denver.

In addition to his father's murder, Castillo was convicted of firing on students at his former high school, Orange High. Clearly he was obsessed with committing school violence. In light of horrific school massacres around the county in recent years, his action against the school, which he planned in advance, was inexcusable. Apparently, only alert action by a teacher and school security guard prevented bloodshed there.

While Castillo clearly and by his own admission is disturbed, the jury faced a serious challenge. Not to imprison someone who did what he did would be to engage in a risky optimism. Even though there are treatments for people who are suffering from illnesses that can make them violent and dangerous, young Castillo had turned that potential into reality, and it's profoundly fortunate that he did not do harm to others before and after killing his father.

And as prosecutor Jim Woodall said, no matter what may have been said about the father, Rafael Huez Castillo, during the proceedings, ..."the bottom line is, he was brutally murdered."

It's impossible to know for sure what might have been done to prevent this tragedy. There were tears all around in the Hillsborough courtroom. But in holding Alvaro Castillo responsible for what he did, jurors took a necessary step toward discouraging similar violence in the future.

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