REDWOOD CITY, Calif. -- In an exclusive interview from the San Mateo County Jail, a man admitted to killing a mother of two with a samurai sword during a brutal daylight attack on a Northern California street in September.
In a strange twist to this case, Rafa Solano now claims it was self-defense.
We should warn you, this is a disturbing story.
Solano's attorney questioned whether he is competent to stand trial, but after the judge ruled last week that he is, ABC7's sister station KGO-TV decided to try and speak with him face to face.
As news broke in September about 27-year-old Karina Castro brutally attacked on a San Carlos Street, the authorities were short on details.
"We can confirm a stabbing instrument was used in the commission of the crime. That weapon is still outstanding," said Lt. Eamonn Allen with the San Mateo County Sheriff's Department in Sept.
Now, we have the complete picture, straight from the defendant.
Young California mother beheaded on street identified, new info released on man arrested in attack
ABC7 News I-Team reporter Dan Noyes met 33-year-old Rafa Solano on the third floor, east wing of the San Mateo County Jail. They don't allow cameras or even a pen and paper, so Noyes recounted the interview as soon as he got out.
Dan Noyes: "And I saw Solano coming toward me, he was much taller than I thought and kind of powerfully built, kind of stocky. I explained that I was from Channel 7, that I wanted to talk to him about what happened, about his case. At no point was anything off the table. When he started talking about Karina Castro, and about their time together and about their daughter, one large tear formed and just trickled down his cheek."
Solano told Noyes he saw his interview with Castro's father and grandmother, and that he wasn't happy with how they described his mental state. He said he's been living with schizophrenia since his teen years.
"He is a diagnosed schizophrenic on meds. And he would use that as an excuse for his behavior. He drank excessively and you're not supposed to do that on those kinds of medications," said Danielle Gannon, Castro's grandmother.
Solano also said that he was not happy that Castro had begun seeing another man.
They argued in the hours before the killing over Snapchat messages.
She threatened to blast him on social media for his statutory rape conviction 10 years ago.
Solano calls her "snitch lip" and warns her "F*** around and find out."
But there's more.
Noyes: "He insists that Karina Castro told him that she had hired people from East Palo Alto to carry out a hit on him, his mother and his brother."
He says that he went to her apartment that day to try to de-escalate the situation. We asked him about the sword.
Noyes: "That's a samurai sword? Right?"
Solano: "Yeah, it's a samurai sword. It was a decorative sword that my father had."
Noyes: "Well, it is sharp, right?"
Solano: "Yes, it has a sharp edge to it."
Solano said Castro came down from her apartment and retrieved a knife from her car.
Noyes: "He says she emerged from the driver's side of that Volkswagen with the knife in hand and kind of marched towards him with this knife. And he claimed that he swung that sword in self-defense."
The district attorney was surprised Solano talked and he discounted this new version of events.
"We don't think that that accords with the evidence that we've been able to collect in this case so far," said Steve Wagstaffe, San Mateo County district attorney.
Noyes: "Is there any indication that she had a knife?"
Wagstaffe: "No, you know, this is a case that didn't occur in a closed room somewhere. It occurred out on the street in San Carlos, with lots of people walking by, and lots of people who witnessed this, what occurred. We haven't had any reports of her being armed with a knife or anybody even seeing a knife, much less using a knife."
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Solano says he hopes he'll get a lighter sentence because of his mental health issues, or he'll be able to serve whatever his sentence winds up being in a mental hospital.
"I understand what he wants. The state prison is full of people who wish they had a lighter sentence," Wagstaffe said.
Wagstaffe also cleared up some of the initial confusion over the injuries to Castro. He said he considers this a beheading, based on what happened that day.