By Lauren Bradley and Robert Meastas
SAN FRANCISCO – The defendant has been charged with the homicide of a family member, her grandmother. The defense contends that the homicide was linked to mental illness resulting from brain trauma after she was brutally assaulted outside of her car in Oakland, California, just months before the incident.
A forensic doctor who prepared the autopsy report testified to explain the physical harm to the victim and cause of death. The doctor testified that the homicide was the result of strangulation, likely with arms wrapping from behind the victim until her death by asphyxiation. Some bruising and contusions were superficial and noticeable from naked eye observation on the victim’s, however, some marks on the victim’s body were debated as to whether they could partly be caused by known medical conditions as opposed to solely attributable to the physical strangulation.
Public defender Danielle Harris questioned the doctor regarding the fact that the victim’s hyoid bone was not broken, which is somewhat common in cases of strangulation. Furthermore, Ms. Harris questioned the doctor regarding the underlying health issues of the victim including carotid artery stenosis and diabetes, and whether these conditions may have contributed to the victim’s death. The doctor stated that pre-existing diabetes and heart condition were not a key factor in the victim’s death, however, she did state that the presence of the stenosis indicates a narrowing of the carotid artery which would make it more difficult for blood to reach the victim’s brain due to this pre-existing condition.
The doctor’s testimony was followed by the testimony of Officer Nicolas Peña of the San Francisco Police Department. Officer Peña testified regarding his recorded interview with the defendant, shortly after the incident occurred.
Officer Peña stated that he arrived as part of the investigative unit with the Mission Investigations Team. The audio recording alongside Peña’s testimony detailed a chronology beginning with the defendant stating that she had heard voices telling her to strangle the victim, with one voice saying “if you’re man enough to do it, then do it.”
Officer Peña reported that the grandmother was on the phone with the defendant’s sister when she was hit with an object. The victim called the sister back afterward to explain that she had been struck, but that the situation had since calmed down. Officer Peña then said that soon after, the defendant strangled the victim until she passed out. The defendant stated in the interview that the voices in her head continued to talk to her after the incident, but ceased talking to her once the police department arrived at the home.
Her actions on the day in question have been traced back to an assault committed against her that occurred in May 2018. She was brutally assaulted in a random act which resulted in a mental disorder that was discovered soon after. The symptoms experienced by the defendant included anxiety and severe paranoia. The disorder also included hearing voices, also called auditory hallucinations.
The disorder affected the defendant severely at points leading up to the incident, as testified to by her sister. The disorder included extreme sensitivity to crowds, light, flashes and loud sounds. The defendant had also experienced visual hallucinations at various times between the injury and the point at which the incident occurred.
The defendant’s sister then took the stand to testify about the incident. The sister stated she found the victim’s body in the bathroom of the apartment, and that she called the police department.
The incident came as a shock to family members, including her sister, who knew the defendant to be very caring, polite, and family oriented throughout her adolescence and early adult life. The injury to the defendant’s head is considered by the defense to be the turning point for her change in behavior and mood. The trial is expected to last until approximately July 10.