HOWELL (WWJ/AP) – A man charged with firing a gun at vehicles along the I-96 corridor in Michigan says he did so because he believed he was battling demons, and that motorists were part of a government conspiracy against him.
Raulie Casteel took the stand Monday morning in Howell, testifying for more than two hours in his own defense.
During questioning from his lawyer, Charles Groh, the 44-year-old defendant conceded that he fired at cars, but that he “absolutely” did not intend to hurt or terrorize any of the drivers.
Casteel told jurors he was filled with fear and anxiety while in traffic, most likely from an undiagnosed delusional disorder.
“He testified that, basically, he shot because he believed that he was trying to get rid of demons in his head; that demons were cars following him; that he was in fear for his life and he had anxiety because of people following him,” WWJ Legal Analyst Charlie Langton reported from the courthouse.
Casteel testified that after losing his job, he believed his former employer was “blackballing him” and using its ties to the U.S. Army to prevent him from gaining employment elsewhere. He also said he started to believe that the government was monitoring his phone calls and sending helicopters and other low-flying aircraft buzzing over his home in Kentucky.
Casteel said he never thought about the ramifications of the shootings, that he had no intent to murder anyone, and he only wanted “to send a message to back off.”
“Sounds kind of paranoid,” assistant attorney general Gregory Townsend said to him.
“It was, yes,” responded Casteel, who also said he believed at the time that “advanced technologies” used by the government may have played a part in his wife’s miscarriage and illnesses suffered by his infant daughter and the family’s two cats.
“It sounds crazy” now, Casteel said.
Casteel acknowledged that he had seen media reports about the shootings and knew that he “might get a knock on my door someday.”
“I knew people were scared,” he said.
Casteel also admitted he’s aware that guns can cause injury or death.
Casteel also said he sensed broadcasters were trying to send him coded messages while he watched telecasts of Detroit Tigers games.
There is a history of mental illness on his mother’s side of the family, Casteel testified. He said he has received mental health counseling since being jailed and is taking medication. Since then, Casteel said, he has stopped experiencing the extreme feelings of fear and anxiety that preceded the shootings.
Casteel is contesting terrorism and assault charges, but not firearms charges, in connection with the two-dozen shootings along the 100-mile I-96 corridor through four counties, in October 2012. Only one injury was reported.
Police said they matched Casteel’s gun to bullet fragments recovered from vehicles.
Following Casteel’s testimony, Livingston County Circuit Judge David Reader sent the jurors home, saying he needed to decide how he will instruct them before they begin deliberating.
Prosecutors want Reader to tell jurors that they may not consider mental illness as a defense for Casteel’s actions.
Defense lawyer Doug Mullkoff objected, calling the request “wholly inappropriate.”
Reader said he needed more time to mull over the issue, saying he realizes how much potential impact it could have on the case.
Casteel is the only witness called by the defense.
Once the jury-instruction issue is decided Tuesday, closing arguments are expected to get underway.
Last year, Casteel pleaded no contest but mentally ill to assault and firearms charges in Oakland County in connection to related shootings that took place there. He faces up to 12 years in prison when he is sentenced Thursday. A no contest plea isn’t an admission of guilt but is treated as such for sentencing purposes. The mental illness allows him to get treatment in prison.
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