Attorney defended man accused of terrorizing I-96

  By Jo Mathis

Legal News
Ann Arbor attorney Charles Groh was eating lunch at South Main Market one day while looking through a list of potential clients when his jaw dropped.
Thanks to a referral by a Detroit law firm, Groh’s next client was Raulie Casteel, the man charged with randomly shooting at two dozens cars along I-96 for three days in October 2012.
By the time Casteel, 44, was found guilty on all charges including terrorism and attempted murder more than a year later, Groh knew that he, too, was forever changed.
Not only does he have a greater understanding of and compassion for those suffering from mental illness, Groh is convinced that society at large and the justice system in particular need to find a more reasonable way to treat them.
He believes legislators should look at specific intent and how that’s impacted by a mental illness, which can taint a person’s reality without proving evil intent.
“People can come in and out of our reality – our sane person’s reality – and not be able to control their conduct,” he said. “That doesn’t mean they have the intent – because of that mental illness.
“We’re trying to lump mental illness into the medical field as if it’s a heart problem or cancer. It’s so different than treating someone for cancer.”
Though Groh cut his teeth on criminal cases in law school working for legal services in Bronx, N.Y. and SADO in Detroit, his primary focus now is on civil practice.
But, with the assistance of defense attorney Douglas Mullkoff, he was eager to defend Casteel because he said it had everything a trial lawyer loves: a complex trial on a novel issue, the first time the Michigan domestic terrorism statute was tried, and the chance to right wrongs.
“The case is extremely interesting to a lawyer,” he said.
Up until a Michigan case in the 70’s—People v. Cavanaugh—defendants too often used an insanity defense to try to get away with their crimes.
In enacting 1975 Mich PA 180, the Michigan Legislature decided that evidence of mental incapacity short of insanity cannot be used as a defense. Since then, if a defendant is not found to fit the legal definition of insanity, his or her attorneys cannot bring expert witness testimony to inform the jury about the impact of mental illness on his or her conduct.
An unintended consequence, Groh said, is that those who are mentally ill and wrestling reality are sentenced to prison rather than psychiatric care.
“The problem always in criminal law is lumping people’s actions together, and not taking into account that there are so many moving parts,” he said. “So clearly the people in power in the 70s wanted to resolve the issue of every defendant saying, ‘I should get off because I was insane at the time.’ But the unintended consequence of what they did was the situation of a Raulie Casteel.”
The Center for Forensic Psychiatry determined that Casteel suffers from a psychotic illness known as Persecutory Type Delusional Disorder that manifested itself over several years, resulting in his acts of shooting at vehicles.  
The disorder, however, did not meet the standard of legal insanity because the psychiatrists did not believe Casteel lacked the substantial capacity to appreciate the nature of his actions or the wrongfulness of his actions.
So Groh was not able to present any testimony or evidence of any reference to Casteel’s mental illness.
A native of St. Johns, Casteel lived in Kentucky before returning to his home state of Michigan in 2012, where he and his wife and daughter lived with her parents in Wixom.
His olfactory and auditory hallucinations began around 2009. He’d smell smoke where there was none and was complaining to anyone who’d listen—including police—of low-flying airplanes and helicopters he believed had him under surveillance.
At his wife’s urging, Casteel sought psychiatric care. But because he was paranoid about government surveillance of him, he drove four hours round-trip to go to a medical health professional.
On the stand, after he was finally on medication, he acknowledged that driving that far was “crazy.”
Even though Groh could not raise the insanity defense, he believed the jury could not fully appreciate why Casteel did what he did and make an informed judgment regarding specific intent without evidence of his mental illness. 
It took at least a year for the Livingston County Jail and the doctor there to follow both the state’s and their private psychiatric evaluators’ advice and get him on medication.
That was the first time he was medicated, and the first time Groh saw him clear-headed.
Still, he often felt he was walking on eggshells.
“When you have a mentally ill client, the last thing you want to do is have him think you’re part of the proverbial problem in any way,” said Groh, who was advised by a psychiatrist in how best to talk to Casteel.
By the time he got to trial, he had been on medication for months.
“Doug and I decided that if you can’t run insanity, then we’re going to tug at the heartstrings and make the jury know more about who he was and what he was experiencing, especially in light of the fact that he really adapted well to the medication,” he said. “He became very aware of what he had done, and couldn’t really understand it.”
On the stand, Casteel told how he had fired at cars not because he wanted to harm anyone, but because he wanted to send a message to “back off.” 
He talked about his fear of oncoming traffic and how he heard voices during Tigers’ broadcasts telling him to shoot at cars; and that other drivers were mimicking his driving style and were part of a government conspiracy against him. He said he believed he was trying to get rid of demons in his head, that demons were cars following him, and he was in fear for his life. But he insisted he didn’t intend to hurt or terrorize the drivers.
Casteel discharged his handgun out the window as he drove along the I-96 corridor. 
He hit some 21 cars, but injured no one. Though the press reported that he shot a man in the buttocks, Oakland County ballistics experts examined the bullet removed from the man and said it didn’t match Casteel’s gun.
Groh is convinced that Casteel would have actually struck and killed a driver if he had wanted to do so, but that was not his intent.
Casteel grew up with guns, had his hunter safety license when he was 12, and owned multiple guns.
“He just believed so strongly that people were out to get him that he had to protect himself,” said Groh. “Those persecutory feelings would come and go, mainly when he was faced with a stressful situation, like oncoming traffic. That seemed to trigger it.”
Casteel was sentenced to at least 16 years in prison for the Livingston County terrorism charge, and 80 months to 10.5 to 12 years under a plea agreement for assault with intent to murder in Oakland County.
The defense beat the charges of assault with intent to murder and assault to do great bodily harm less than murder, which means he will be eligible for parole after 16 years.
“In a perfect world, he would have gone to the Forensic Center and got help,” Groh said. “To throw him into a prison with no services—into the general population—doesn’t seem right.”
Groh said it was Casteel’s misfortune that the Domestic Terrorism Statute defines a terrorist act as to intimidate or coerce a civilian population or affecting a unit of government.
He’s convinced that Casteel was shooting at cars, not people.
“For what he’s been through, he’s a normal man who cares about his family,” Groh said. “It’s just sad to see an illness cause him to be on the wrong side of the law. Through no fault of his own. I guess you could make that argument with poor people who go to jail trying to make money in illicit ways. But that has more intent to it than someone who comes down with a mental illness.”
Groh is a hunter and shotgun-owner who has seen the effects of family members with dementia, where one day their minds are clear, and the next, they aren’t.
He said that in the event of his own incapacitation, his wife knows whom to call to take the guns away.
“You just don’t know,” he said.
Raulie Casteel is at the Oaks Correctional Facility in Manistee. His case is under appeal.

Subscribe to the Legal News!
Full access to public notices, articles, columns, archives, statistics, calendar and more
Day Pass Only $4.95!
One-County $80/year
Three-County & Full Pass also available