By Kelsey Givens
A woman charged as an accessory to murder may be joining her co-defendant at a state mental institution next month for a competency evaluation if a local justice of the peace decides to grant a motion filed by the prosecution in the case this week.
Sylvia Castillo, 35, was in court Tuesday afternoon for a preliminary hearing on charges of accessory to murder and destroying/concealing evidence.
The hearing never went forward, however, as Chief Deputy District Attorney Kirk Vitto entered a motion to send Castillo for a mental competency evaluation before her case proceeds any further through the justice system.
Castillo was originally arrested on the charges after police learned that she had helped her boyfriend, Peter J. Helfrich, 36, dispose of the body of a man named Salvador Gama, after Helfrich reportedly killed him on Jan. 23.
During their last court date, Helfrich’s attorneys entered a motion on his behalf to conditionally waive his right to a preliminary hearing and bind him over to the Fifth Judicial District Court to determine if he should be sent for a mental evaluation in the case.
Vitto said several factors played into his decision to ask for an evaluation for Castillo as well, including the fact that she reportedly suffered a serious head injury last year after Helfrich hit her with a machete and that she is currently pregnant.
But the largest reason for the request, Vitto said, was a letter Castillo has reportedly written since her incarceration, in which she says she believes her unborn child may be a “demon baby.”
“She has written an eight or nine page letter, which the prosecution is not currently in possession of, therefore the defense is not in current possession of. But apparently she gives some detail in regard to the incident in question, but then makes reference to — and this is part of what makes us concerned — she makes reference to her co-defendant having her raped by someone, perhaps something, and that she is going to give birth to some kind of demonic entity; that her child will have horns, if not already in the process of developing horns,” Vitto told the court.
The prosecutor said he wanted to have her evaluated by professionals to determine whether or not she was criminally competent for her actions on the day of the murder.
“The state is requesting that this court order an evaluation to determine whether she is competent to assist council, et cetera, et cetera, and also that she be evaluated for purposes of determining criminal responsibility. In other words, was she sane” on the day of the incident, he said.
The motion apparently came as a complete surprise to both Justice of the peace Ron Kent and Castillo’s attorney Carl Joerger.
“This is a surprise to me. Everyone over here has my cell phone number, they could have called me this morning to say they were going to do this and they didn’t even do that,” Joerger told the court after hearing the state’s request for the evaluation.
He questioned whether Vitto entered the motion because he was truly worried about Castillo’s mental capacity, or if it was because the state wasn’t prepared to go forward with the hearing.
“If the state is so concerned about my client, the question I have is does the state have someone from the Clark County Coroner’s Office here ready to testify?” he asked. “My concern is that they weren’t prepared to go forward today and they entered this motion to continue this matter.”
This is not the first time Castillo has been ordered by the court to undergo a mental health evaluation as part of a criminal case against her.
According to both parties, Castillo was evaluated over a period of several months last year, from April until the end of September, at Lakes Crossing in Sparks as part of another case she was involved in.
That evaluation, which was completed less than six months ago, reportedly determined Castillo understood the criminal charge against her and that she was capable of assisting her attorney in preparing her defense.
“The second point is we sent her to Lakes Crossing in April of 2012, that’s when the order of commitment was, April 2012. They kept her there until Sept. 28, 2012. This wasn’t like they walked her in for a 30-day evaluation and said goodbye have a nice day. Their opinion, at the end of the day, was Ms. Castillo has an adequate understanding and knowledge of the legal system. She appears to appreciate her legal situation and the nature of the crimes alleged against her. That was a felony case we had in District Court. Ms. Castillo appears to be able to assist her attorney in her defense if that should be necessary,” Joerger told the court.
The defense attorney added that based on his own personal meetings with his client, he believed her to be very lucid and did not believe it was necessary or productive to send her to Lakes Crossing for yet another evaluation.
Joerger asked that Kent deny the motion and continue with the preliminary hearing as scheduled.
After hearing from both sides, Kent said he would like some time to look into whether he even has the authority to send Castillo for an evaluation and whether or not it was truly necessary in this case.
He ultimately decided to continue the matter until a month from now to give the state a chance to file a formal written motion with the court and for the defense to respond to that request.
The hearing has since been rescheduled for March 19.