First Defense Expert Lays Out Insanity Claim in Renato Seabra Murder Trial
BY DUNCAN OSBORNE | Testifying for the defense in the trial of Renato Seabra, the accused killer of Carlos Castro, a psychologist told jurors that Seabra was driven to murder Castro in part by their three-month-long sexual relationship.
“He performed anal sex on this man and I think he had grave misgivings about that,” Dr. Jeffrey Singer said in Manhattan Supreme Court on October 19.
Seabra, now 23, faces a single count of second-degree murder that alleges he intended to kill the 65-year-old Portuguese TV personality when he strangled, beat, and castrated him in a Manhattan hotel room in January of 2011. The defense says Seabra was legally insane when he killed the older man and cannot be held responsible under the law.
The men met in Portugal in October of 2010. They were in New York for a three-week vacation paid for by Castro, who also arranged for Seabra to interview at modeling agencies during the visit.
When they first kissed in Portugal, Seabra told Singer, he did not object because Castro was going to advance his modeling career.
“I wasn’t going to say anything because I wanted that help,” Singer said Seabra reported during one of two 2012 interviews. “I was just achieving goals in the fashion world.”
On January 6, the night before Castro was killed, the relationship was tense because Seabra had flirted with girls at a bar.
“You start seeing an arrangement going terribly awry,” Singer said. “I would say he was ambivalent.”
The couple fought, and Seabra launched his attack after noon on January 7 in the hotel room they shared. He was in a psychotic state, the defense says, and “came to associate his homosexual activity as ‘demonic’ requiring ablation and cure,” Singer said, reading from a report he prepared for the defense. The attack lasted for an hour.
“He was still breathing in a very heavy way,” Singer said, reading from a defense report that quoted Seabra. “I was thinking he was the devil… I was afraid he was going to wake up and kill me so I had to continue to beat him.”
In the defense story, Seabra used a corkscrew to castrate Castro. Seabra made superficial cuts to his wrists with a broken wine glass.
“After I slit my wrists, I put the testicles on each wrist,” Singer said Seabra told another defense expert. “It was for protection… I put a testicle on each wrist and felt more powerful.”
He castrated Castro because “the power of the monster was in the balls,” Seabra said. After the killing, he showered, dressed in a suit, and wandered the streets of Midtown Manhattan touching people to cure them, the defense says.
The prosecution story is that Seabra was using Castro for money and to help his modeling career. Seabra became enraged and killed Castro after the older man ended their relationship and told Seabra they would be returning to Portugal early. In that story, the psychosis is just so much malingering.
Singer began his testimony on October 18, and the questioning by Rubin M. Sinins, who represents Seabra along with David Touger, continued the next day and totaled about six hours between the two days.
Insanity is an affirmative defense, meaning that Seabra’s lawyers must prove their case by a preponderance of the evidence as opposed to the higher standard of beyond a reasonable doubt imposed on the prosecution. The defense is relying on the gruesome nature of the crime and Singer’s repeated assertions that Seabra’s mental state was such that he lacked the capacity to know his conduct was wrong.
Sinins described a hypothetical scenario in which someone was in the hotel room as Seabra was killing Castro and told him what he was doing was wrong and he should stop.
“Would Renato have believed him?,” Sinins asked. Singer said, “No.”
“Would Renato have stopped?,” Sinins asked. Singer said, “No.”
Sinins introduced records from St. Luke’s Roosevelt Hospital, where Seabra was first treated on January 7 for about seven hours, Bellevue Hospital, where he was held until his transfer to Rikers Island on April 12, and the city’s Department of Correction. The records have Seabra diagnosed with serious mental illness.
“Did the psychotic behavior continue for week after week after week?,” Sinins asked on October 18. Singer said, “Yes.”
Pointing to the Bellevue records, Sinins asked, “Is there any evidence in there that he is malingering or feigning?” Singer said, “Not a single iota.”
The prosecution cross-examination of Singer began on October 19, and Maxine Rosenthal, an assistant district attorney, pounced on Singer’s inexperience with so-called criminal responsibility evaluations. The Seabra evaluation is his first.
“Although that is correct, it is very similar to the hundreds of other forensically informed evaluations I have done,” Singer said.
Singer has evaluated sex offenders, mostly to determine if they can be released from civil commitment.
“The sex offenders you’re evaluating, they’re not psychotic?” asked Rosenthal, who is assisted by Jung Park, also an assistant district attorney. Singer said, “Correct.”
His practice does not involve determining if the offenders know the difference between right and wrong when they committed their crimes.
“But again, not as to whether they knew it was right or wrong?” Rosenthal asked.
“That is correct,” Singer said.
Rosenthal also elicited testimony from Singer that he had not interviewed Seabra’s family, friends, or any of the doctors or nurses who produced the reports he relied on to complete his report, and that his interviews of Seabra were conducted in English. A Portuguese translator is in the courtroom translating the proceedings for Seabra.
The trial will continue on October 23.