Jose Solano Landaeta, 33, appeared in a San Mateo County courtroom Monday afternoon to be arraigned on a felony murder charge.
His attorney, Robert Cummings, told the judge Landaeta was not mentally competent to stand trial in the gruesome killing of Karina Castro on September 8.
The judge granted a mental evaluation and the criminal proceedings were suspended. Doctors are scheduled to be assigned Tuesday morning to make a determination on Landaeta’s mental state.
That can take about eight weeks, according to San Mateo County District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe.
"It is better to get this taken care of now, then to do it in two years when we’re about ready to start a trial," said Wagstaffe. "If he’s found not competent to stand trial that causes the criminal proceedings to be held until he is restored to competency – if ever."
Landaeta did not say anything in court. His eyes barely moved. His head was down most of the time.
Wagstaffe said Landaeta killed Castro used a large sword and fatally wounded her in the neck, but stopped short of calling it a beheading.
"Beheading is a subjective phrase," Wagstaffe said. "The death was caused by the blow from this sword to her neck area multiple times."
Prosecutors say the motive for the crime may be spelled out in a series of social media posts and other messages. Investigators are still gathering phone data and other electronic information.
Castro,27, was a mother of two daughters age 7 and 1. The infant, the family said is also Landaeta’s.
A restraining order was issued against Landaeta Monday to prevent any contact with the children.
Family and friends of Castro were distraught following the hearing Monday. Her father, Martin Castro, said he was too emotional to speak to reporters outside the courthouse.
Prosecutors say the family is worried about where the case will go from here.
"Our job is to let them know we do not believe this is going to allow him [Landaeta] to go free whether or not depending on the outcome of this mental evaluation. It’s not like you’re not competent to stand trial that you get to go free."
Landaeta is being held without bail in the San Mateo County jail.
If he does stand trial and is found guilty, he could face 26 years to life in prison.