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November 27, 2014

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Defense bolsters its case for insanity plea in 2010 ax-slaying of infant

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Steve Marcus

Harold Montague, accused of an assault with a medieval-style battle ax that killed a baby, talks with attorney Andrea Luem before an arraignment hearing at the Regional Justice Center, Wednesday, March 3, 2010.

Montague Arraignment (3-3-10)

Harold Montague, accused of an assault with a medieval-style battle ax that killed a baby, talks with attorney Andrea Luem before an arraignment hearing at the Regional Justice Center, Wednesday, March 3, 2010. Launch slideshow »

Harold Montague believed he was communicating directly with God when he used a medieval style battle-ax to attack a mother and kill her 4-month-old baby in 2010 on a Las Vegas residential street, according to a psychiatrist who testified Friday in Clark County District Court.

Montague, 37, has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity in the Feb. 11, 2010, attack that left Sandra Lissett Castro critically injured and her infant son, Damian, dead. Among the charges Montague faces is capital murder.

Castro was walking her son on San Pedro Avenue, near South Maryland Parkway and Sahara Avenue nearly four years ago when the seemingly random midday attack occurred. Montague is also accused of stabbing his disabled sister-in-law, Monica O'Dazier, multiple times with the pointed end of the battle-ax on the same day as the attack on the Castros. O’Dazier and Montague shared a home near where Castro and her son were attacked.

Reno psychiatrist Dr. Tom Bittker, an expert for the defense, testified in Friday’s evidentiary hearing about findings from his interviews with Montague.

While Montague has received various diagnoses of psychosis, it’s clear he has psychotic thought and mood disorders, Bittker testified. Montague’s mental illness has improved with treatment but still persists, Bittker added.

Bittker said he believed Montague was in the midst of a psychotic episode when he committed the crimes. Until that 2010 day, Montague thought he was in direct communication with God — and God had a special mission for him — Bittker testified.

Montague doesn't remember the incident, Bittker said, adding it is not uncommon for someone so horrified by an event to block it from his or her memory.

While Montague originally felt remorse over the attacks, Bittker noted that remorse now is "quite profound." Asked what he attributed the increased remorse to, Bittker said it was probably a result of Montague's medication.

Bittker said he believed Montague's mental illness went untreated until he was incarcerated.

Bittker testified Montague's childhood was one of physical, sexual and emotional abuse. Both of Montague's parents were substance abusers, and when Montague was 6 his father was murdered, according to Bittker's testimony.

Montague didn't finish fifth grade, and he grew up in and out of a juvenile detention center. As an adult, Montague struggled to hold a job, drifting from working as a caregiver, caretaker and bouncer, Bittker said.

Friday’s hearing was to lay the groundwork to establish that Montague is mentally ill, said Norm Reed, Montague’s attorney and a deputy public defender. Judge Douglas Herndon presided over the hearing, filling in for Judge Stefany Miley. It will be up to Miley to rule later whether Montague is persistently mentally ill.

"It was important for us to put on the record that Harold is mentally ill well in advance of trial so that doesn't become an issue,” Reed said.

Montague is facing the death penalty, and Reed said he is hopeful a plea agreement can be reached in the case.

“I don’t think Harold should be executed because he’s so mentally ill that he does this crazy horrific act,” Reed said.

Prosecutors have not called their own experts to testify about Montague’s mental state and did not cross-examine Bittker.

During a preliminary hearing in 2010, Dr. Lisa Gavin, a medical examiner with the Clark County Corner's Office, said every bone in Damian Castro’s head was fractured as a result of three chop wounds – one on the forehead, one near the right ear and one on the back right of the head.

Montague, who appeared in standard blue jail attire and was shackled during the hearing, is due back in court Feb. 5. He remains in the Clark County Detention Center without bond.

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