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Mental competency exam postpones arraignment in horrific San Carlos beheading

Arraignment for suspect in horrific San Carlos beheading postponed
Arraignment for suspect in horrific San Carlos beheading postponed 02:41

REDWOOD CITY -- The arraignment for the man accused in the horrific beheading a young mother on San Carlos street in broad daylight last week was delayed Monday as his lawyer requested a mental competency exam.

33-year-old Jose Rafael Solano Landaeta appeared in a Redwood City courtroom Monday afternoon. He is accused of killing his girlfriend 27-year-old Karina Castro last Thursday

San Carlos homicide suspect Jose Rafael Solano Landaeta
San Carlos homicide suspect Jose Rafael Solano Landaeta appears in court. CBS

According to the San Mateo County Sheriff's Office, deputies were flagged down in the area of Magnolia Avenue and Laurel Street around 11:50 a.m. Thursday after witnesses reported an assault in progress. When deputies arrived, they found a woman dead at the scene. 

The suspect – who was once romantically involved with the victim and is the father of her youngest child – allegedly beheaded the young mother with a samurai sword outside of her apartment. She already had a restraining order against him.  

Friends identified the victim as 25-year-old Karina Castro. A makeshift memorial was established outside the apartment complex where she lived.  

Shortly after the assault, the suspect returned to the scene and was detained. The suspect, later identified as Landaeta, was arrested and booked into the San Mateo County Jail on suspicion of murder. 

Landaeta was scheduled to be arraigned during the Monday court appearance, but criminal proceedings were put on hold after his defense attorney requested the defendant receive a mental competency exam.

The judge granted the motion and the arraignment hearing was continued until Tuesday, according to the San Mateo County District Attorney's Office. A doctor will be appointed to conduct the exam, officials said.

District Attorney Stephen Wagstaffe said Landaeta was non-responsive and did not speak during his brief court appearance. If he is found not competent, he will not be tried until he is deemed mentally competent.

Wagstaffe said the victim's family expressed concern that the delay could mean Landaeta would be released, but he assured them that that would not be the case. 

"Yeah, they're very worried that this could mean, well, does this mean that there's a chance he could go free," said Wagstaffe. "That's what they're worried about, and our job is to let them know, no, we don't believe this is going to allow him to go free whether or not depending on the outcome."

Family members including the victim's father and grandmother were present for the court hearing Monday but declined to speak, leaving the courthouse in tears. 

Landaeta remains in custody with no bail. He was prosecuted in 2012 for a separate unrelated charge. Wagstaffe said that even though the victim had a restraining order on the suspect, she declined to notify the police when the restraining order was repeatedly violated prior to her death. 

Investigators are looking at social media posts and phone communications to determine a motive, but Wagstaffe did not disclose any additional information about the case. Landaeta faces 26 years to life in prison if convicted.

"It is horrific. It is some of the worst violence we've seen locally and maybe even nationally in a while," said Next Door Solutions to Domestic Violence Executive Director Colsaria Henderson.

The DA said the suspect may have violated the restraining order multiple times prior to the killing. But advocates say seeking court intervention can be an especially dangerous time for victims.

"We really need to take it seriously and understand that every single case can become deadly," said Henderson. "And unfortunately, this woman Karina Castro suffered brutally at the hands of her perpetrator." 

Advocates say if you find yourself in a situation where you are being threatened or abused by your partner that it is critical to seek help immediately that the national domestic violence hotline is available 24 seven.

The stunned San Mateo County community held a prayer vigil for Castro on Friday night. 

"Yesterday, our community was shocked by the tragic murder of a young mother in our community," Mayor Sara McDowell and the city council said in a joint statement Friday. "Thanks to the quick reaction by neighbors calling 911, San Carlos Deputies were able to quickly respond and immediately take a suspect into custody."

Adrienne Murray told KPIX 5 that she is close with Castro's mother. She said Castro was outside her car when her boyfriend approached.

"She was putting (her children) in her car and raised her head -- and he cut her head off and her children saw everything," Murray said.

Murray said Landaeta would constantly threaten the victim. Moments before her murder, Landaeta sent her a text. Murray said the victim's mother saw the texts after Castro's death and her phone is in the hands of authorities.

"He sent her a text -- so she's got the text on her phone -- that he was going to literally behead her if she didn't cancel the restraining order or something like that," Murray said.

City officials announced that they have partnered with the San Carlos Community Foundation to accept donations for the victim's children. Information about donating can be found on the Community Foundation's website.

Betty Yu contributed to this story.

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