HOWELL, Mich. (AP) — A man who said he opened fire on motorists along a busy southeast Michigan highway because he believed they were part of a government conspiracy against him was convicted Wednesday of terrorism, assault and other charges.
A jury deliberated over parts of two days before reaching a verdict against Raulie Casteel, 44, of Wixom. He faces up to life in prison when he returns to court on March 3.
Casteel told jurors Monday in Livingston County court that he was filled with fear and anxiety while in traffic, most likely from undiagnosed delusional and paranoid thinking. But the jury agreed with prosecutors who argued that his actions in the October 2012 shootings were deliberate and premeditated.
Casteel's sister sobbed loudly in the courtroom as the verdict was read.
"I'm just happy that everybody can be safe now. ... Imagine being shot at. It's not fun," one of the victims, Jennifer Kupiec, later told reporters.
The jury was asked to consider an attempted murder charge in the shooting at Kupiec's car, but Casteel instead was convicted of the lesser charge of assault with a dangerous weapon.
He didn't contest five gun charges. Police said they matched Casteel's weapon to bullet fragments recovered from vehicles.
On the witness stand Monday, Casteel admitted that he fired at cars along the Interstate 96 corridor, but that he "absolutely" did not intend to hurt or terrorize any drivers.
Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette hailed the terrorism conviction, while defense attorneys said authorities piled on charges.
"We're disappointed. We contested this because we thought this was an overcharge," Doug Mullkoff said of the terrorism charge.
Casteel was the only defense witness. He recalled shooting while feeling fear and anxiety over long lines of traffic. The shootings took place in four counties, forcing children inside schools during recess and putting the region on edge for weeks.
"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 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 her car.
Under cross-examination by 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."
Last year, he 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 Tuesday in that case. 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.