Wrong man held in mental hospital for two years in mistaken identity nightmare

On May 11, 2017, homeless Joshua Spriestersbach was arrested while sleeping on the street outside a homeless shelter in Honolulu, Hawaii.

But while Joshua thought he was simply being busted for breaking a local by-law against sleeping on the pavement he was in fact the victim of a horrifying case of mistaken identity.

He was arrested and charged under the name of Thomas Castleberry, a man with a record of weapons and drug offences who was wanted for violating his parole conditions.

When Joshua swore he wasn’t Castleberry, doctors said he was delusional and he was confined to the Hawaii State Mental Hospital.

He remained there for two years.

Joshua told police “I do not understand the charges, I just fell asleep, it cannot be more than a petty misdemeanour,” but they didn’t believe him.

A judge declared that Joshua, who is now 50, was unfit to stand trial and sent him back to hospital.

Joshua’s lawyer, Jennifer Brown, filed a petition with a Honolulu court this week, explaining: “The more Mr Spriestersbach vocalised his innocence by asserting he is not Mr Castleberry, the more he was declared delusional and psychotic by doctors and heavily medicated”.

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When he was finally released, his sister Vedanta Griffith says, “He was a shell of his former self.

“His eyes were vacant, he was overly medicated and looked like he had been through hell.”

“His shirt was wet from drool, and he was shuffling his feet,” she added. “He was just so medicated.”

Brown says Joshua was not carrying any ID when he was arrested, but told officers his name, date of birth and social security number.

Joshua looks nothing like Castleberry, 49, who has been in jail in Alaska since 2016.

Ms. Brown described the Joshua’s years-long ordeal as a “gross miscarriage of justice.”

“He’s the kindest, gentlest soul, and he wouldn’t hurt anybody,” his sister said. “There’s nothing they can do to give him those years back.”

A Honolulu Police Department spokeswoman said earlier this week that the department was currently “looking into the circumstances of Mr. Spriestersbach’s arrest.”

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