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Accused San Carlos samurai sword killer refuses to testify to prosecutors

Defendant claims he doesn’t remember killing victim
A memorial for Karina Castro outside her San Carlos apartment, Tuesday, Nov. 14. Photo by Nicholas Mazzoni

For nearly three hours on Monday, Nov. 13, accused killer Jose Rafael Solano Landaeta spoke in detail about the conversations he had with Karina Castro hours before she was killed, claiming he feared for his life.

Landaeta, 33, of Hayward, is on trial in San Mateo County Superior Court for the killing of Castro, a 27-year-old mother of two, with a samurai sword outside her San Carlos apartment on Sept. 8, 2022. Landaeta is the father of one of Castro's children.

Picture of Jose Rafael Solano Landaeta. Photo courtesy of San Mateo County Sheriff's Office

But the cross-examination only lasted around 15 minutes, during which Landaeta failed to recognize a photo of Castro, claiming he didn’t kill her. He then asked to take a break, but upon returning to the witness stand, he appeared to be asleep and didn’t respond to the prosecutors.

During the recess, Castro's father, Martin Castro, said he was shocked that Landaeta refused to acknowledge Castro’s picture or his involvement in her death.

"Frustration isn't even the beginning of it. I am blown away right now. It's like one minute, I don't think it could get any worse, and the next minute I think, OK, this is worse," said Martin Castro, who added that he believes Landaeta is playing a game with the court system by trying to pretend he isn't competent, which would slow the trial down.

While testifying, Landaeta's demeanor appeared to change throughout the day.

Wearing a striped jacket with his hair slicked back, he said multiple times that he felt threatened thinking that Castro would have him and his family killed.

But when asked to explain what he meant when he messaged Castro, 'F*** around and find out,' in a Snapchat social media thread hours before she died, he appeared defensive, saying that she was lying about him.

"Now she's getting my people involved and lying about it, so when she gets my people involved, that's a problem," Landaeta said. "It's the ultimate threat, trying to get your people to turn on you. You know, if she wants to go to war, then I'm going to have to take care of business because I'm not going to let you kill me and let anything happen to my mama."

His defense attorney claimed his mental illness triggered a psychotic episode fueled by over-the-phone arguments that led Landaeta to believe Castro was out to have him and his family killed. Landaeta claimed to have acted out of fear and alleged self-defense, saying that he thought Castro was trying to stab him in the heart.

While his attorney Robert Cummings said it wasn't a case of ‘who did it, but why,’ during his opening statement on Monday, Nov. 6, Landaeta stopped answering the prosecutors’ questions after saying he did not kill Castro. Landaeta previously pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity but was found competent to stand trial by court-appointed doctors.

Landaeta had a restraining order to stay away from Castro, according to the San Mateo County District Attorney's Office. During Monday's trial, Deputy District Attorney Josh Stauffer, who objected multiple times, noted Landaeta was reciting answers from notes he had taken from text message conversations between himself and Castro.

Novak ended the trial an hour early when Landaeta refused to answer questions. Landaeta claimed he was unable to answer questions because he had a panic attack due to his mental illness.

San Mateo County District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe said it was the first time he's seen someone stop answering questions on the stand.

“(That's) out of hundreds of murder cases we had in this county over the decades where somebody stopped answering questions," Wagstaffe said.

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