Bee reporters answer questions about area crime news, trends and other issues.
QUESTION: Sometime in the late 1990s, a father killed his wife and left his young children in the home. Whatever happened to the kids and the father?
Submitted by: Tim Thayer, North Highlands
ANSWER: Former McClatchy High School teacher Robert Castorena pleaded no-contest to second-degree murder in the 1996 stabbing death of his wife, Janice Baker-Castorena.
According to stories in The Bee, the plea bargain in May 1999 ended a 2-1/2-year-old case that began with the discovery of the brutal slaying of Baker-Castorena, a 38-year-old physical therapist, in the family's rented home on Flora Vista Lane.
Police said Robert Castorena stabbed his wife Oct. 1, 1996, with a 10-inch butcher knife during an argument. He stayed with the body for two days in a back bedroom before fleeing to the resort town of San Miguel de Allende in Mexico.
Before leaving, however, he cut his daughter, then 14, and son, 8, with a knife and threatened to kill them if they called police, officials said. The children stayed in the home with their mother's body until the boy deliberately drew police attention with a shoplifting attempt.
The Sacramento police officer who took the boy home to talk to his parents discovered Baker-Castorena's body. Robert Castorena was captured a month later in Mexico and returned to Sacramento for prosecution.
Castorena initially was judged mentally unfit to stand trial and sent to Atascadero State Hospital. Six months later, a judge found him competent and reinstated criminal proceedings.
In April 1998, he was ordered to stand trial in the slaying of his wife and attacks on his children. He entered a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity and was ordered to undergo evaluation by three mental health experts.
Under the 1999 plea agreement, he was sentenced to 15 years to life in prison on the murder charge. But the judge also found Castorena was insane during the attack on his daughter and committed him to Atascadero State Hospital in San Luis Obispo County until he was found to be sane. If ever found sane, he would be transferred to the state Department of Corrections.
According to Sacramento Superior Court online records, a court date is set for Jan. 24 to consider his return from the state hospital.
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