Castillo guilty verdict tore at hearts

A jury is supposed to decide guilt, not feel it.

But the jurors whose first-degree murder verdict on Friday meant Alvaro Castillo would spend the rest of his life in prison longed for other options, the jury foreman said in an interview Saturday.

The six men and six women felt sorry for the mentally ill defendant who had lived a hardscrabble 22 years, said Thomas Boyer, the foreman.

No one wanted to heap more sadness on the young man who grew up in a family where domestic violence and mental illness were prevalent, Boyer said. But they were bound by the law. Their options were limited.

"Part of it was, 'Isn't there something else we can do for this defendant?' " Boyer said Saturday from the porch of his Carrboro home. "The poor kid is so mentally ill."

Boyer, 58, a financial controller for LabCorp., said jurors reached quick consensus that District Attorney Jim Woodall had proved that Castillo murdered his father, Rafael Huez Castillo, on Aug. 30, 2006. They agreed after some debate that he committed nine other crimes that day while laying out pipe bombs and firing a rifle into Orange High School, his alma mater.

The struggle came when they had to decide whether he could be held criminally responsible for those actions.

"One of the jurors said, 'You know if this young man were a thug, this would be easy. But I really think deep down, there is a nice young man there,' " Boyer said.

Castillo comes across outwardly as a quiet, polite, young man. On Friday, after the jury found him guilty of first-degree murder and nine other crimes, Castillo included jurors in the litany of those he thanked after the trial.

But there is another side to the complicated man, the violent side that led to three weeks of testimony in a case that got national attention because of Castillo's obsession with the 1999 Columbine school shootings.

Castillo confessed to killing his father and to firing into Orange High School in a journal entry, a homemade video and on TV news clips shortly after the incidents.

The day after the jury found Castillo guilty of the 10 offenses, Boyer outlined how he and the 11 other jurors came to their unanimous decision.

Boyer, who said he agreed to talk about the deliberations so other jurors would not have to, was careful to distinguish his process of arriving at his conclusion from what other jurors might have been thinking.

"Nobody had any ambivalence about the murder charge," Boyer said. Several jurors, Boyer among them, were not immediately persuaded that Castillo was guilty of assault with a deadly weapon with intent to kill. They were not sure about his intent when he fired the rifle a great distance from the one girl he hit on the shoulder and the other not struck.

Intent to kill

Eventually, though, they all agreed that the firing of such a weapon showed intent to kill.

After leaving the courthouse at 5 p.m. Thursday in unanimity that a murder had occurred, the jurors who came from varied walks of life and different parts of Orange County assembled again at 9 a.m. Friday with several concerned about what their vote of the previous afternoon really meant.

Boyer said they wanted to be sure they had not ruled out the defense team's assertions that Castillo was so mentally ill on the day of the shootings that he could not distinguish between right and wrong. No, Boyer told them.

"There really are two questions here," Boyer said. "Did he do it? Did the state prove its case? The answer to that was 'yes.' "

Sanity at issue

The jury spent the bulk of its time discussing the next question: Did public defenders James Williams and Phoebe Dee prove that Castillo was not guilty by reason of insanity?

The contention of the defense was that Castillo was responding delusionally to a calling from God to sacrifice his father and Orange High School students so they would go to heaven and not suffer the ills of the world.

"I don't think anybody believed he was on a mission from God," Boyer said.

But when Boyer asked for a show of jurors who thought the defense had proven insanity, eight did not think so but two men and two women were ambivalent.

Castillo, the prosecution and defense agreed, suffers from severe mental illness. Mental health experts for both sides agreed that he suffered from severe depression. Defense experts testified that he also suffered from psychoses that prevented him from knowing right from wrong.

By 3:30 p.m. Friday, Boyer said, all 12 jurors had decided the defense had not proved Castillo was unable to distinguish between right and wrong. They had reviewed a video and news clip because one juror wanted to see his demeanor on that day. They were trying to get a sense of whether he was delusional. After unanimously agreeing that he was not, they waited 10 minutes and then Boyer filled out the 10 verdict forms he would pass up to the judge.

Some of the jurors wept, and a woman who had suggested the jury start their day with a group hug, walked around the table to comfort a man across from her in tears.

"It was the pain of the situation," Boyer said. "There really were no winners in this. There wasn't a cry of relief.

"I think some of it was the weight of knowing that we really couldn't do anything to ease the pain of this young man."

Related stories from Raleigh News & Observer