HOWELL, Mich. – A man who kept a swath of southeastern Michigan on edge for weeks by shooting at two-dozen vehicles along a busy highway corridor was sentenced Monday to 18 to 40 years in prison on a combination of terrorism and weapons convictions.
Raulie Casteel learned his fate in Livingston County Circuit Court, where a jury in January found him guilty of terrorism, rejecting his claim that the shootings were the impulsive result of uncontrolled delusions and paranoia.
Casteel, 44, already is serving a six-plus-year sentence that stemmed from a related case in neighboring Oakland County. The judge sentenced him to a minimum of 16 years on the terrorism charge and two additional years on felony firearms charges. The sentence is concurrent with the Oakland County case, and he must serve at least 18 years.
Defense lawyer Doug Mullkoff sought a lighter sentence, saying his client was "certainly a troubled individual" but not a terrorist.
"Is Raulie Casteel actually a terrorist — is this really what the Legislature had in mind when it passed the Michigan anti-terrorism act in wake of attacks in 2001?" asked Mullkoff before the sentencing. "I think they were thinking of Osama bin Laden, Timothy McVeigh. Did Raulie Casteel fit into that category? I don't think so. The post-9/11 law passed by Legislature did not contemplate someone who is mentally ill like Mr. Casteel."
Before handing down his sentence, Judge David Reader said he had a mentally ill mother who he cared for up until her death and is "very empathetic and sympathetic" to the condition. Still, he added, terrorism isn't necessarily contingent upon the mental state of the perpetrator.
"The daily routines and lives of tens of thousands were affected before any motivation was revealed," he said, adding "that's indeed terror in the opinion of this court."
During the Livingston County trial, Casteel testified that he shot at the other motorists on Interstate 96 and nearby roads between Lansing and Detroit over a three-day period in October 2012. Testifying in his own defense, Casteel said he was consumed with anxiety while in traffic, most likely from undiagnosed delusions. He said he believed drivers were part of a government conspiracy against him.
Casteel said he never thought about the consequences of the shootings, only that he wanted "to send a message to back off."
Among the victims who attended the sentencing was Jennifer Kupiec, who spoke at a news conference afterward. Kupiec, now 25, said she encountered Casteel on the freeway on Oct. 18, 2012, while driving from Brighton to East Lansing to meet a friend for lunch and buy a sweatshirt from Michigan State University, her alma mater.
"Someone I didn't know rolled down their window and aimed a 9-millimeter gun at me," said Kupiec, who now lives in Chicago. "He tried to kill me for no reason and came with milliseconds of getting his wish."
Kupiec said she pulled over and saw the bullet hole in her car door and believes Casteel was aiming at her rib cage. She said he likely would have succeeded had she not been speeding — which drew some laughs from the law enforcement officials standing around her.
Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette said it was a miracle nobody was hurt or killed, but argued that doesn't lessen his belief that the terrorism charge and conviction "squarely" aligned with the state law.
"For three days people were intimidated — afraid to take their normal route to work ... or school," he said. "They were afraid they might get shot."
The terrorism charge brought by the state attorney general's office covered all the shootings in Livingston, Shiawassee, Ingham and Oakland counties. Casteel had faced 60 charges, including attempted murder, in Oakland County for shootings in Commerce Township and Wixom before pleading no contest but mentally ill to assault and firearms charges last year.
Defense attorney Mullkoff has said his client was diagnosed with delusional disorder, a condition associated with maintaining false, persistent beliefs despite evidence to the contrary.
Casteel is a St. Johns, Mich., native who lived in Taylorsville, Ky., before returning to Michigan in 2012 to live with his wife's family.
Police in Kentucky said they had no contact with him until June 2012 when he became agitated and complained about aircraft flying too low over his house. No one else had reported low-flying planes.