Defense: Teen charged in boy's death mentally ill

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Posted: Apr 21, 2011 7:13 PM
Defense: Teen charged in boy's death mentally ill

A teen accused of molesting and drowning a 4-year-old neighbor is mentally ill and didn't intend to commit murder, his defense attorney said during closing arguments Thursday.

Raul Castro, 15, is being tried as an adult in the killing of Alex Mercado in October 2009. Castro was 14 when he allegedly drowned the preschooler in the bathtub, then hid the body inside a clothes dryer.

The teen admitted to sexually assaulting and killing the boy in taped interviews with detectives.

His defense attorney, Barbara Hope O'Neill, based her argument on the testimony of a sole witness: a psychiatrist who testified Wednesday that Castro's mental illness led him to disassociate with reality.

Avak Albert Howsepian, a psychiatrist at Fresno's Veterans Affairs hospital, said the teen was likely having an out-of-body experience as he killed and sexually assaulted Alex.

Howsepian read a statement Castro made about the murder: "It just happened out of nowhere. It got crazy."

Prosecutor Robert Romanacce challenged the doctor's credibility and called his statements a "bunch of psychobabble," according to the Fresno Bee.

The murder was premeditated, the prosecutor said, and Castro was in a clear state of mind at the time.

Howsepian testified that Castro has a history of depression, suicidal behavior, hallucinations, bipolar disorder and anxiety. He also said the teen had suffered physical abuse as a toddler by his mother's boyfriend.

The doctor spent about 130 hours interviewing and diagnosing Castro.

County Superior Court Judge Jonathan Conklin was expected to issue a verdict Friday. Castro waived his right to a jury trial last week.

He faces life in prison with the possibility of parole after 47 years if convicted of all charges, which include kidnapping and forcible lewd acts on a child.

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Information from: The Fresno Bee, http://www.fresnobee.com