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Michigan man guilty of terrorism in road shootings

AP

A man who spread fear across Michigan by firing at about two dozen vehicles near a busy highway was convicted of terrorism Wednesday as a jury rejected his claim that the shootings were the impulsive result of wild, uncontrolled delusions and paranoia.

The jury deliberated over two days before returning a verdict against Raulie Casteel, 44, who faces up to life in prison when he returns to court on March 3.

“The victims of his shooting spree received justice,” state Attorney General Bill Schuette said.

Testifying in his own defense, Casteel admitted that he repeatedly fired his gun at vehicles in four counties near a busy highway between Lansing and Detroit, over a three-day period in October 2012.

No one was hurt, but the hunt for a gunman dominated headlines for days, persuading travellers to change their habits and even forcing many schools to keep children inside at recess.

“I can’t testify to the number, but I did fire at cars, yes,” said Casteel, who kept a handgun on the floorboard near his right leg.

Casteel, a geologist, told jurors Monday that he was consumed with anxiety while in traffic, most likely from undiagnosed delusions. He said he believed drivers were part of a government conspiracy against him.

Casteel said he never thought about the consequences of the shootings, only that he wanted “to send a message to back off.” Defense lawyers pleaded for an acquittal on the terrorism charge, arguing there was no premeditation as required by law, but the jury disagreed.

As the verdict was read, Casteel’s sister sobbed loudly in the courtroom.

Jurors considered an attempted murder charge against Casteel for shooting at one person’s car but instead convicted him of a lesser charge of assault with a dangerous weapon. He didn’t contest five gun charges after police matched the weapon to bullet fragments recovered from vehicles.

After the verdict, Casteel’s defense team accused prosecutors of piling on charges.

In a separate but related case, Casteel is due in court Tuesday to be sentenced for shootings that occurred in another county. He pleaded no contest but mentally ill to assault and firearms charges last year and faces up to 12 years in prison. No terrorism charge was filed by the county prosecutor there.

A no-contest plea isn’t an admission of guilt but is treated as such for sentencing purposes.