REDWOOD CITY, Calif. (CN) — A man accused of using a samurai sword to kill the mother of his child in front of people in a Northern California neighborhood must face trial, a judge ruled Wednesday.
San Mateo County Superior Court Judge Rachel Holt ruled there is enough evidence to arraign Jose Solano Landaeta, 33, on all charges including first-degree murder in the death of Karina Castro, 27, the mother of Landaeta’s one-year-old child.
Castro was beheaded in the attack outside the apartment complex in San Carlos where she lived with her 7-year-old and 1-year-old. Landaeta’s attorney Robert Cummings requested a psychiatric evaluation of his client during his first appearance this past September saying his client may not be mentally competent to stand trial.
In February, San Mateo County District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe’s office reported a court-appointed doctor found Landaeta is competent to stand trial.
Landaeta appeared in court Wednesday wearing red county jail attire with a white mask, as multiple witnesses from the San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office testified about their involvement in the case.
Deputy Albert Grant said he was conducting a traffic stop around 11:45 a.m. on Sept. 8 in San Carlos when Natalie Griffin ran up to him, saying a man was striking a woman down the street. He got to 400 Laurel Street and met another woman who was “extremely distraught” with blood on her hands who pointed to a person lying behind a black sedan. He saw a blonde woman on the ground in a fetal position.
“I noticed she had no signs of life, her head had been decapitated and she had blood on her chest,” Grant said.
Detective Richard Deschler said Griffin told him she witnessed the attack while she was walking with friends. They saw a heated argument outside the apartment complex between a large man and a blonde woman.
He said Griffin told him the young woman said to the man “Fuck you, I have your kids.” Griffin said that as her group crossed the street, she saw the woman fall to the street and the man striking her in the back of the head with “a nearly four foot pole.” She heard the woman screaming until the man raised the pole above his head and “forcibly struck it down on the back of the woman’s head,” Deschler said.
Detective Carryn Barker said one of the other witnesses claimed to have heard Castro say “Are you going to beat me now?” before seeing the man take a long weapon out of a vehicle and hit the woman in the shoulder. Seeing blood, the witness ran to ring the doorbell of a neighbor to call 911, then turned around and saw the woman on the ground.
Another witness told Barker she had seen the woman run from the man and then fall on the ground, with the man striking her in the neck and head. She saw the man get in his silver car and drive down the street. This witness approached the body, and saw blood and blond hair on the sidewalk and that the woman’s eyes were closed and her neck “was severely cut,” Barker said.
Deputy Damian Machuca told the court that during the crime scene investigation, Landaeta and a woman crossed the caution tape and approached him. The woman, Landaeta’s mother, said, “He is turning himself in.”
Machuca said Landaeta was breathing heavily and had blood on his jeans and sneakers, and said only “She was trying to kill me, I’m sorry.”
Landaeta had a cellphone and car keys with him. The silver car registered in his name was later found three blocks from the crime scene and contained a sheathed samurai sword with blood on it, according to detective David Brandt.
Brandt said the pathologist who performed the autopsy identified an injury to the woman’s left arm, severing the bone. The cause of death was multiple strikes with a sharp object to the head and neck.
Brandt read aloud some of the state’s evidence that Landaeta complained about Castro to another man on Instagram, calling her “psycho” and saying “She looking to get smoked. She needs to get 86’d.”
Cummings, Landaeta’s attorney, did not call witnesses but presented pieces of evidence, such as a pink penknife he claimed was found on the woman’s body. He also tried to admit evidence of online conversations between Castro and the defendant which he said were threatening, saying, “There are elements of self defense here.” However, the judge sustained objections to the evidence.
Holt said Landaeta will be arraigned March 23. He will continue to be held without bail.
“This was a decapitation,” Deputy District Attorney Josh Keckley-Stauffer told the judge. “Malice is assumed in attacks where weapons are used. This is unquestionably a first degree murder with the use of a weapon.”
Landaeta did not speak in court.
“My client never denied the act,” Cummings said. “There is some defense, but that will come later with the trial.”
In a statement released this past September, Wagstaffe said Castro had obtained a restraining order against Landaeta in April but that both she and Landaeta had violated it multiple times.
“In no way I’m being critical of the victim in this,” he said. “It’s something that we see constantly in the domestic violence arena. It is part of the cycle of domestic violence”
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