HOWELL, Mich. (AP) — A man charged with firing a gun at vehicles along the Interstate 96 corridor in Michigan did so because he believed motorists were part of a government conspiracy against him, he testified at his state terrorism trial on Monday.
Raulie Casteel, who testified for more than two hours, told jurors he was filled with fear and anxiety while in traffic, most likely from undiagnosed delusional and paranoid thinking.
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.
“I saw a long line of traffic, felt fear and anxiety and shot,” Casteel said, describing one of the October 2012 shootings that took place in four counties, forced schoolchildren inside during recess and had the area on edge for days.
“I can’t testify to the number, but I did fire at cars, yes,” said Casteel, who added that he kept a handgun on the floorboard near his right leg.
In one instance, Casteel testified that Jennifer Kupiec, who had been tailgating him on I-96 then passed his car on the right, agitated him to the point that he picked up the gun, rolled down the passenger side window and fired at Kupiec’s car.
Under questioning from assistant attorney general Gregory Townsend, Casteel said he never thought about the ramifications of the shootings, only that he wanted “to send a message to back off.”
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 is contesting terrorism and assault charges, but not firearms charges, in connection with the two-dozen shootings. Police said they matched his gun to bullet fragments recovered from victims’ vehicles.
Casteel is a Michigan State University-educated geologist and soil scientist with experience in environmental cleanup. He’s a Michigan native who lived in Taylorsville, Ky., before returning to his home state in 2012.
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.
“Sounds kind of paranoid,” Groh 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 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.
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.