BY EMILY MIBACH
Daily Post Staff Writer
Renata Tabellion and her two friends were walking on Laurel Street when they saw a man and woman arguing. Moments later, the man pulled out a sword from his car and swung it at the woman, Karina Castro, nearly severing her right arm.
“I thought we were next,” Tabellion told the jury on the first day of Jose Solano Landaeta’s trial in Redwood City yesterday (Nov. 7).
“When you see something like that, it’s like ‘What’s happening? Where are the police?’ I just ran,” Tabellion said, breaking into tears.
Tabellion ran across the street and banged on a neighbor’s door trying to get someone to call 911 since she didn’t have her phone. Meanwhile, she could hear one of her friends yelling for Landaeta to stop. Another had run to find a police officer they passed by earlier on their walk.
But while that was happening, Landaeta, 34, was still attacking Castro, 27, and Tabellion recalled seeing Castro lying on the road and hoping that Castro would start breathing.
“It wasn’t until I got really close that I saw her head was off,” Tabellion said in tears.
Landaeta is charged with Castro’s murder on Sept. 8, 2022. Landaeta refused to come to court yesterday, but Judge Lisa Novak ruled the trial could continue in his absence.
Landaeta has paranoid schizophrenia and typically takes medication, but due to his and Castro’s tumultuous relationship, Landaeta stopped taking his medication, his attorney Robert Cummings said during opening arguments. His paranoia was set off by Castro’s threats, saying she had someone on the way to kill him, his mother and his brother, Cummings said.
“He was expecting to see six to 10 guys there when he drives up,” Cummings said, adding that Landaeta drove from his job in Berkeley to Hayward to get his sword for self-defense, then to San Carlos, to de-escalate the situation.
Cummings said his client acted in “imperfect self-defense” because of the threats and that Castro had two knives, a pink one and a black one, and had taken a swing at Landaeta during their argument. Cummings did not say how long the knives were. Castro’s knives were not recovered by police. Her father found the pink knife in her car after getting it back from police and threw it away, Cummings said.
Cummings alleged Castro had the knives because of a cut on her hand consistent with holding a folding knife.
Prosecutor Josh Stauffer told the jury that just three hours before Castro died, Landaeta sent Instagram messages to a friend saying Castro needed to “get 86’d” and “she is looking to get smoked blood.”
In Snapchat messages between Castro and Landaeta, he frequently sent ninja and blood droplet emojis after Castro would refer to Landaeta as a pedophile or make other threats, Stauffer said.
The back and forth on Snapchat ended when Landaeta drove to Castro’s home at 400 Laurel St. The two continued their argument, which resulted in Castro’s death.
Family and friends of Castro attended yesterday’s opening hearing, with some weeping as details of her death were mentioned in court.
Due to the gruesome nature of the murder, Judge Novak ruled the public would not see images of Castro’s decapitated body.
Stauffer showed printouts of the crime scene images to jury members. Attorneys had to position their screens so those sitting in the gallery could not see the image.
Landaeta refused to come to court yesterday, but the trial proceeded in his absence. Since Landaeta did not have “good cause” to skip court, he was advised of his rights and waived his right to be present.
Landaeta had withdrawn his plea of innocent by reason of insanity last week. Innocent by reason of insanity means the defendant was not sane at the time of the crime.
Cummings asked last month to have Landaeta examined by two doctors, but Stauffer argued that Landaeta had told an employee in the jail that his attorney told him to stop taking medication.
Landaeta also told family members through recorded phone calls and the jail employee that if he is found not competent to stand trial, his case will be thrown out and go free, according to the DA.
Landaeta’s mental health records from when a court-appointed doctor interviewed him in January found that he was mentally fit for trial and was perhaps making up his symptoms.
The trial continues today with more prosecution witnesses.