BALTIMORE – A man with a history of mental illness pleaded guilty Wednesday to drowning his three young children one by one in a Baltimore hotel bathtub during a custody dispute with his former wife, who said she still cries every day over the deaths.
Mark A. Castillo, 43, told police and a fellow inmate that he wanted to cause anguish for his pediatrician ex-wife when he killed the children in March 2008.
Dr. Amy Castillo, a born-again Christian, said in court that she has compassion for her former husband and believes the family will be reunited after death, but she remains overwhelmed by grief.
"I have flashbacks, nightmares, chest pains — it's terrible — and some days I feel like I can't live," Amy Castillo said outside court. "Sometimes I get tired of the amount of time that it takes to get better."
In statements to police, Mark Castillo said he spent "a good day" with the children — Anthony, 6, Austin, 4, and Athena, 2 — at the Maryland Science Center before checking into a downtown hotel. He calmly described how he held them underwater for 10 minutes each, using a stopwatch, and laid their bodies on a bed.
Castillo then tried to commit suicide by stabbing himself in the neck with a steak knife.
He was sentenced to three consecutive life terms without the possibility of parole, and Baltimore Circuit Judge Wanda K. Heard recommended that he be committed to the Patuxent Institution, a maximum-security psychiatric facility.
"You have chosen to not make a spectacle," the judge told Castillo. "Your family can try to mend and move forward."
In his statement to the court, Castillo said, "I was wrong," then quoted from the Book of Ecclesiastes: "No man has authority to restrain the wind with the wind, or authority over the day of death."
Castillo's attorneys had planned to argue that he was not criminally reponsible for the killings — Maryland's version of an insanity plea.
He withdrew the plea last year before his public defenders reinstated it, and after some discussion in court Wednesday morning, he said he wanted to dismiss them. Heard tried to dissuade him, and Castillo then announced that he was pleading guilty.
It was the latest in a series of unpredictable moves by Castillo, who frequently wept during his court appearances and told a different judge last year, "You can give me the death penalty if you want."
Assistant State's Attorney Julie Drake, the lead prosecutor, said she was "shocked" when Castillo announced his intention to plead guilty. Attorneys had been picking a jury and arguing motions to suppress his statements to police.
Castillo's mother, sister and 21-year-old daughter from a previous relationship were in court Wednesday for the first time since his arrest. Amy Castillo said she thought their presence might have influenced him to accept responsibility for his actions.
"He has the love and support of his family, and he always will," Castillo's sister, Marisol Lopez, said in a brief statement to the court. His relatives did not speak to reporters.
Amy Castillo said she visited her ex-husband — a former gymnastics instructor and computer network technician — several times last year in a psychiatric facility to begin the process of forgiving him. She urged prosecutors to recommend that he serve his sentence at Patuxent in the hope that he could make something productive out of his confinement.
She said he had apologized to her several times, both in person and in writing.
"I know it doesn't sound like much, but a lot of people never get an apology from the person who's done something against them, and for me it really was better than nothing," Amy Castillo said. "God forgives me and has given me the power to forgive him. I'm not a bitter person, and that's going to help me move forward."