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Man who nearly beheaded ex-girlfriend with sword gets 26 years to life. Not enough, says judge

Jose Rafael Solano Landaeta sits in a San Mateo County courtroom in Redwood City, Calif., on Monday, Nov. 20, 2023. Landaeta was found guilty of first-degree murder for beheading his girlfriend with a samurai sword on a city street last year. A jury returned the verdict against the Northern California man on Monday and continued to deliberate a series of aggravating factors that would affect sentencing. (Nicholas Mazzoni/Redwood City Pulse via AP, Pool)
Jose Rafael Solano Landaeta sits in a San Mateo County courtroom in Redwood City, Calif., on Nov. 20, 2023. Landaeta was found guilty of first-degree murder for beheading his girlfriend with a samurai sword on a city street. He received a sentence of 25 years to life on Tuesday. (Nicholas Mazzoni / Associated Press)

The courtroom photos and evidence were so graphic and jolting at times that jurors, observers and even the defense attorney nearly gagged.

The San Mateo County district attorney's office wondered whether any sentence would be enough for Redwood City resident Rafael "Rafa" Solano Landaeta. The 34-year-old was convicted in November of first-degree murder after nearly beheading his ex-girlfriend, a mother of two, with a samurai sword in front of neighbors in September 2022.

A county judge issued a maximum sentence — 26 years to life — on Tuesday, which offered solace but not satisfaction for some.

"Even though this was a maximum sentence for a first-degree murder, we share the sentiment with the judge, which was that this was a savage and horrifying death," Sean Gallagher, chief deputy to the district attorney, said in a phone call Tuesday. "This is someone who should never be released from prison, a vicious human being who is a danger."

Solano Landaeta almost decapitated Karina Castro, 27, mother of a daughter they shared, in the middle of a San Carlos street just outside her home on Sept. 8, 2022, police reports say.

Castro ran for her life, according to the district attorney's office, before Solano Landaeta killed her in front of several witnesses. She had previously taken out a restraining order against him.

The reason behind the slaying has been disputed.

Read more: Man accused of nearly beheading woman in Northern California will undergo mental evaulation

Gallagher labeled Solano Landaeta's act as revenge after Castro posted some messages on social media that enraged him.

Solano Landaeta's attorney, Robert Cummings, said his client's actions were due to a "schizophrenic break" because of a lack of medication.

"He's needed mental help for years and needed to be off the streets," Cummings told The Times on Tuesday. "He, unfortunately, is like a lot of people who are unchecked. The government, the state, needs to step in and treat and monitor people like my client because the public, at large, is in danger."

Solano Landaeta did undergo a mental competency exam and was found fit to stand trial.

"Mental health had nothing to do with this case and could not justify this death," Gallagher said Tuesday. "He's just a violent, vicious, controlling guy who was perfectly sane at the time of the crime."

Cummings confirmed that Solano Landaeta had purchased the samurai sword at least a decade earlier on Ebay, and that his family was unaware of its existence.

He said the bizarre nature of the crime made Tuesday's sentencing unsurprising.

Read more: California man convicted in beheading, a crime that staggered witnesses and first responders

"Ultimately, we're looking at an act that took place in the middle of the street in front of four people," Cummings said. "There's no overcoming that."

Cummings said multiple family members spoke on behalf of Castro and against Solano Landaeta during the sentencing phase.

Solano Landaeta's mother attempted to speak on behalf of her son but the judge denied her request, according to Cummings.

"The sentencing is what was expected," Cummings said. "There was no surprise."

Judge Lisa Novak said during sentencing that the punishment "imposed just does not feel sufficient for the crime," according to ABC7 San Francisco.

"This was traumatic for everyone involved, for the officers and civilians who are witnesses, and the jury," Gallagher said. "Everyone suffered."

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.