Why Was Joshua Held for More Than Two Years for Someone Else’s Crimes?


For Spriestersbach, whose sense of self was already so fragmented, to be told, over and over again, that he was someone he wasn’t — and had done things he hadn’t done and weren’t like anything he’d ever done — the only sensible response may have been to shut down completely. From his first time inside the hospital, he claimed to be a political prisoner; this time around, it was alarmingly close to the truth. There was frustration, helplessness and anger — but mostly, it seemed he felt that everything he suspected about a world that was trying to control his mind had, in fact, proved true. They were wrong, and he was right.

And so in early 2018, he started refusing some of his medications. He stopped talking with Garrett at all, not a word. Her weekly reports became perfunctory. Which once again placed him into the same bureaucratic snarl: He couldn’t be forcibly medicated without an “order to treat” from the court — but the only way to get an order to treat was if he was potentially dangerous.

Spriestersbach may not have realized that his protest strategy had a flaw this time: The charges on the bench warrant for Thomas Castleberry weren’t nonviolent misdemeanors. They were felonies. This meant a 120-day cap on his time at H.S.H. did not apply. Either the hospital would restore him to competence or he would stay there indefinitely. In early 2018, a court-appointed examiner continued to find him unfit. He would go nowhere until something changed. This was when Spriestersbach started to lose his composure. On March 3, when a psychiatric nurse offered him his evening meds, he replied sharply: “You take the pill! I filed a complaint already!” The months dragged on, the one-year mark came and went. In October 2018, the judge in his case ordered a new mental-fitness examination, this time with three panelists. This went nowhere — he remained “unfit” — and his grip on reality continued to loosen.

Something finally broke the cycle in the spring of 2019. On May 23, after having completely stopped taking medication, Spriestersbach met briefly with a court examiner and talked about how he believed he had a right to challenge the judge in his case to a duel. He had said things like this before during previous stays — the right to duel was a motif he seemed to return to in conversation, though he never came close to following through on the notion. By now, though, he was making enough “disorganized and bizarre statements,” in the words of one report, to justify an application to the court for an “order to treat.”

The court granted the order on June 4, and he was represcribed antipsychotic medications, first Zyprexa, and then Haldol. He initially refused to take the pills, and so the record shows him receiving forced injections for several weeks, until he agreed. The next round of exams found him unfit yet again. But during a meeting with Garrett on Jan. 2, 2020, for apparently the first time since his admission more than two years earlier, he started to talk in greater detail about his past — an admission to a psychiatric hospital in California, followed by his move to Hawaii.

This time, Garrett followed up. According to her own written account and another in his file, she searched online for the hospital in California and saw that it did, in fact, exist. Then she remembered that H.S.H. had a record of the sign-in sheets from the Puna health clinic, where Spriestersbach said he was an outpatient client for his first few years on the Big Island. Sure enough, there he was, in the records. One look at Thomas R. Castleberry’s arrest on Oahu in 2006, and it was clear that Spriestersbach was in Hilo at the time — on an entirely different island. “It was a big moment for us as a team,” her colleague told me, “She said: ‘Oh, my God, I think Josh was correct. I don’t think it’s him.’”