A state appeals court in San Francisco today upheld the second-degree murder conviction of Susan Polk, who fatally stabbed her estranged psychotherapist husband in a cottage on their property in Orinda in 2002.
Polk, 53, was convicted in Contra Costa County Superior Court in 2006 in the killing of Felix Polk, 71. She acted as her own lawyer in a tumultuous 14-week trial.
Superior Court Judge Laurel Brady sentenced her in 2007 to 16 years to life in prison.
Polk met Felix Polk when she was 14 and he was acting as her therapist for panic attacks. They married 10 years later, in 1982, after Felix Polk divorced his first wife.
At the time of the murder, Susan and Felix Polk were in a contentious divorce. The husband had been given exclusive use of their Orinda home and custody of the youngest of their three sons.
Susan Polk admitted to stabbing him, but she claimed she acted in self-defense after he picked up a kitchen knife. She said she had gone to talk to him in a cottage on the property on the night of Oct. 13, 2002, and grabbed the knife from him after he stabbed at her leg during an argument.
Prosecutors at the trial maintained she intended to kill him and had brought the knife with her.
The youngest son, Gabriel, then 15, found the body the next day and called police.
While Polk exercised her right to act as her own lawyer at the trial, she had a court-appointed attorney, Victor Morse, in her appeal.
In a 60-page ruling today, a three-judge panel of the Court of Appeal rejected a series of appeal arguments, including a claim that Brady should have instructed the jury on the lesser crime of voluntary manslaughter resulting from heat of passion.
The appeals court said there was no evidence that Polk acted under extreme passion or emotion. The panel said Polk’s own testimony at the trial indicated that “the subjective element of heat of passion was wholly absent.”
Justice Sandra Margulies wrote, “Defendant testified that, although fearful for her life, she kept her wits about her when reacting to Felix’s conduct. She was neither angry nor otherwise overcome by passion.”
The court quoted Polk as having testified, “There was fear on my part, but not passion. I was not angry.”
Two of Polk’s sons, Adam and Gabriel, testified against Polk at the trial. The middle son, Eli, testified in her defense.
The 2006 trial was Polk’s second. Her first trial in October 2005 was declared a mistrial when Pamela Vitale, the wife of Polk’s then-defense lawyer, Daniel Horowitz, was murdered in Lafayette in an unrelated crime.
Julia Cheever, Bay City News