A prosecutor said there was a "time bomb of stress" inside Sam Kastanis that exploded on Nov. 17, 1991, resulting in the brutal slayings of his wife and three children.
Kent Morgan told jurors to ignore the appeals for emotion and speculation and base their verdict on the evidence found inside the house where the killings occurred.But defense attorney Ron Yengich said there is no evidence to convict Kastanis of four counts of capital murder and encouraged the jury to send that message to the government. The evidence is clear that a depressed and psychotic Margaret Kastanis killed the children and then turned the knife on herself, he said.
"I'm not here to tell you Margaret Kastanis is a bad person or was. I'm here to tell you she lost it."
The six-man, six-woman jury began deliberations Wednesday morning after the attorneys delivered their closing arguments late Tuesday.
Yengich said he had waited his entire life for the opportunity to stand before the jury and present this particular defense. "I have never been prouder to call myself a criminal defense attorney than I am today, representing this man," he said.
"These people speak to you as your government," he said of the prosecution. "A government with the power of oppression that forsakes its duty to do the right thing and look at all of the evidence."
Yengich said investigators ignored crucial evidence about the "disease that ate away at Margaret Kastanis." Several friends and family members testified she was mentally ill and suicidal, and some said she even spoke of taking her children with her. Yengich said such testimony alone creates a reasonable doubt that Kastanis is guilty.
"If you read those statements and consider them, you can throw everything else out the window," he said.
But Morgan said the evidence points to Sam Kastanis, not his wife. Much of the case came from blood-spatter expert Rod Englert, who analyzed the blood located throughout the house and on the family's clothing and other evidence to conclude Kastanis killed his family.
Morgan said the way the victims were "brutally mutilated" shows the slayings were a "product of rage" and not a "product of psychosis."
Kastanis served in Vietnam and may have suffered post traumatic stress disorder, Morgan said, even though Kastanis repaired radios and wasn't in combat.
The prosecutor said Kastanis was a "time bomb of stress" because of financial struggles, the purchase of a new home, his wife's depression and mental illness, and the increase in family responsibilities he undertook because of that.
"It went tick, tick, tick and exploded. He saw the opportunity and could not control himself," Morgan said. "He acted in a rage. He killed his children and killed his wife. He tried to make it look like Margaret Kastanis had done it."
Morgan said Kastanis staged the crime scene by wiping the knife and hammer used in the slayings. The weapons were also found lying parallel to each other on the floor by Margaret's body and couldn't have landed that way from falling out of Margaret's hand as she died.
"Do you believe in magic or do you believe in science?" Morgan said.
Yengich said the prosecution's stress theory is unreasonable. "People don't just flip out. This is not Hollywood."
Margaret Kastanis had asked her husband for a divorce because she felt she was an unfit mother and wife and was holding her family back. "If he wants out, ladies and gentleman, he's got a straight (invitation) out of the house in West Jordan and he can take the kids with him," Yengich said.
In addition, the couple had just purchased a new home after selling their house, the children were scheduled to return to school the next day after a small vacation and Kastanis planned to return to work the next day after taking a week off. "The stress was over with for this man."
Yengich said Morgan's references to post traumatic stress disorder was a sign of desperation. "That's mayday cries from a sinking ship," he said.
Morgan reminded jurors of the testimony of assistant medical examiner Edward Leis, who ruled Margaret's death a homicide. The theory that Margaret received wounds on both of her hands because they slipped across the blade of the knife as she attacked the children "borders on impossible," said Morgan. He also questioned how Margaret could stab herself four times to the heart.
"The scenario as I look at it gets extremely close to magic to me," he said. "That defendant sitting over there killed his family, and he should not get away with it."
But Yengich said even the state's witnesses who testified the wounds on Margaret's hands are defensive could not rule out the possibility they could be offensive nor could they rule out suicide as a possibility.
"I give my adversaries an A for effort, but this man is innocent. He's innocent of these tragedies. Put this case to rest," he said.
Yengich then pointed to Margaret's parents and other family members who have steadfastly supported him. "Let their daughter and their grandchildren rest. Let them rest in peace," he told the jury.
"Once in this case, come back and tell the state of Utah - not with hatred or anger - they're wrong," he said.
"Give them eight words - `not guilty' four times."