Maria Anna Esparza fears she’s losing her son, again.
In November 2011 the Current chronicled the story of Adan Castañeda, a 27-year-old sniper who battled serious mental illness after his honorable discharge from the U.S. Marine Corps. We wrote how the Marines looked the other way when Castañeda attempted suicide while enlisted, and how, despite Castañeda’s increasingly serious outbursts at home once discharged, the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs routinely ignored his mental health issues, bouncing him from crisis to crisis.
Castañeda’s delusions reached a breaking point the early morning hours of May 27, 2011, when he grabbed a .45-caliber pistol, called a taxi to drive him from his San Antonio apartment to his mother’s Hill Country home, and fired 23 rounds into the house. Cops found him minutes later wandering the street in a daze, according to police reports. Authorities charged him with aggravated assault and attempted murder.
Castañeda languished in the Comal County jail for six months without mental health treatment before a judge finally declared him incompetent to stand trial. Authorities eventually sent him to the North Texas State Hospital, where doctors diagnosed him with a schizoaffective disorder, placed him on meds, and put him in counseling, his mother says.
“At the end of his treatment, we finally felt like we had him back,” Esparza said. But that was back in August 2012.
For nearly 10 months, Castañeda’s been back in solitary confinement at the Comal County jail, awaiting a jury trial; jail officials say it’s for his own safety, Esparza told the Current. Castañeda’s family, the victims of his offense, have asked that Comal County District Attorney Jennifer Tharp consider reducing charges, which she has so far refused to do. Without access to the treatment he got in the state hospital, Castañeda has backslid, Esparza says.
She pointed to two letters her son has written to the judge on his case, Comal County District Court Judge Jack Robison.
In his first letter, shortly after discharge from the state hospital in August 2012, Castañeda wrote, “I’m sorry for my situation,” telling the judge, “North Texas State Hospital has helped me tremendously.” He asked the judge for leniency, saying he plans to get an education if, and when, he gets out of jail. Fast forward to May 9, 2013. In another letter to Judge Robison, Castañeda’s delusions resurface, telling the judge he “utilized suppressive fire on a legitimate threat on my life” the morning he shot up his mother’s home. “The police cannot always be relied upon… I took matters into my own hands, which by the American constitutional rights I am afforded, I had every right to do,” he wrote.
“This is coming from his schizophrenia,” Esparza said. “These are his delusions.”
Esparza has asked for continued mental health care while Castañeda’s in jail, hoping to keep him in counseling while he stays on his meds. But the Hill County Community MHMR (mental health and mental retardation) Center hasn’t stepped in, she’s told, because the jail’s psychiatrist hasn’t asked for it. When finally reached by phone Monday morning, Dr. Cesar Garcia refused to answer questions and hung up.
Esparza said she asked her son this week the last time he saw Dr. Garcia; he told her he’s only seen the doctor once since returning from the state hospital.
Meanwhile, Esparza says family has been left in the dark about the progress of Castañeda’s pending legal case. His defense attorney, Gina Jones, did not return calls. The Comal County DA’s office did not return numerous calls for comment last week.
Castañeda’s trial was reset for the second time last week. Family members who had planned to testify on his behalf, and who had already made travel arrangements to attend, were angered.
“It’s not only an inconvenience for us, but it’s a slap in the face that this has happened again,” said sister Vanessa Castañeda, who planned to fly in from California.
“I’m really concerned that because of the long wait, he’s just going to flip back into a really dark place.”
Esparza says it appears Castañeda already has. And that, she fears, will not bode well for him at his eventual trial, which has been rescheduled for next month. She worries prosecutors will point to Castañeda’s apparent deterioration to try to convince a jury he’s dangerous.
“How long can competency last while in isolation?” Esparza said.