HOWELL, Mich. (AP) — A jury spent four hours Tuesday deliberating in the domestic terrorism trial of a man who opened fire on nearly two-dozen vehicles along a southeast Michigan highway corridor two years ago, disrupting the lives of those who lived, worked and learned in the area for several weeks.
Raulie Casteel, 44, doesn't dispute that he pulled the trigger, but he says he did so without the premeditation required for guilty verdicts on the two most serious charges he is facing — terrorism and assault with intent to murder, which both carry possible life sentences. He is not challenging five weapons-related counts.
Jurors were given the case around midday Tuesday following closing arguments from both sides. Late in the afternoon, they asked Livingston County Judge David Reader to play back a recording of Casteel's testimony from Monday.
The judge agreed, and the entirety of the defendant's two-plus hours on the stand will be played first thing Wednesday morning. Casteel, who is a Michigan State University-educated geologist, testified as the defense's lone witness that he did shoot at other motorists along the Interstate 96 corridor during a three-day period in mid-October 2012. But he said that at the time, he believed the other drivers — none of whom was seriously hurt — were part of a government conspiracy against him. He told jurors he made snap decisions to fire on the other vehicles.
"Mr. Casteel didn't have some premeditated plan to go out and hurt people," said defense lawyer Doug Mullkoff, who called his client "a deeply troubled man." "It was crazy and wrong what happened here, but it wasn't terrorism," Mullkoff said.
Assistant Attorney General Gregory Townsend scoffed at the notion that Casteel hadn't planned the shootings, pointing out that they took place over three days and after Casteel was aware of the media and police attention the shootings had received. He was arrested Nov. 5, 2012.
"If this isn't a case of terrorism, what is?" said Townsend, who displayed photos of those whose vehicles were targeted, telling jurors that Casteel "was very, very successful at terrorizing the community."
The shootings that took place in Livingston, Oakland, Shiawassee and Ingham counties forced schoolchildren inside during recess and had the area on edge for weeks. "His intention was to send a message to the government, and he certainly did," Townsend said, adding that Casteel "terrorized four counties and probably all of southeast Michigan."
Casteel is a St. Johns, Mich., native who lived in Taylorsville, Ky., before returning to his home state in 2012. He 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.
His frustration over the perceived flyovers caused him to place calls to the governor's office, local police and even Fort Knox to complain, Casteel testified. 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.
Reader told jurors they may not consider mental illness as a defense for Casteel's actions. 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 provision allows him to get treatment in prison.