Woman to Question Sons in Her Murder Trial

Susan Polk, who married her therapist, now faces murder charges in his death.

In the midst of a bitter divorce, Susan Polk says she split for Montana, determined to get away from her abusive husband. "I didn't plan on coming back and killing him," she explains from behind a Plexiglas window in the county jail.

But kill him she did - thrusting a paring knife repeatedly into his body in an angry rage.

She claims self defense. Prosecutors call it the premeditated actions of a violent, delusional woman.

Polk, 47, has fired three attorneys and now plans to represent herself in her first-degree murder trial set to begin Monday - a case of a woman who married her therapist and stabbed him to death 20 years later.

One son is the prosecution's star witness, another her main defender. She'll question both on the witness stand.

Susan's life hit the skids as a teenager when, troubled by the stresses of youth and the divorce of her parents, she began seeing a therapist. Felix Polk was 42 then, a highly revered - and married - Berkeley psychologist. She says they started having sex when she was 16.

"I believed I was in love with him and that he loved me," says Susan, who married him at 24, when he was 50.

The couple had three sons - Gabriel is now 18, Eli is 20, and Adam, 22. But as she tells it, Felix kept her under his thumb, abusing her physically and emotionally.

"He would get mad if I went to the store without telling him," she says, nervously tucking her stringy salt-and-pepper hair behind her left ear.

"He tried to destroy my self esteem ... Sometimes he'd slap me and hit me ... He would say, 'I'll never let you go."'

Police were called to the couple's $2 million home in the upscale San Francisco suburb of Orinda numerous times as they battled through a divorce, arguing over money and custody of Gabriel, then 15 and the only son still living at home.

She accused Felix of hitting her. He claimed she attacked him. Each said the other threatened murder.

Once, she was arrested for hitting her husband in front of police. Felix didn't press charges.

It all ended the night of Oct. 13, 2002 - the night Susan says she returned from Montana to collect her things.

In her absence, Felix, 70, had won a court order giving him the house and custody of Gabriel.

It was about 11 p.m. when Susan confronted Felix in a cottage on the property.

"He came at me ... and the next thing I knew he was stabbing at me with a knife," she says. "I kicked him as hard as I could in the groin."

The couple struggled. Susan grabbed the blade.

"I stabbed him in the side with it and he just wouldn't stop. I kept saying, 'Get off me.' He was biting at me," she recalls. "He was going to kill me.

"Finally he stood up and it was over ... He said, 'Oh my God, I think I'm dead."'

Felix fell limp on the floor. Susan went in the house to wash up.

"At that point, I came back and he was dead," she says, nonchalantly.

But Susan didn't call police or tell Gabriel about his father's body in the cottage. She says she was in shock - and figured no one would believe it was self-defense, least of all her sons. "I had their father's blood on my hands."

The next evening, Gabriel waited for his father to come home from work so they could go to a Giants game. Finally, he asked his mother if she'd seen him. According to Gabriel's grand jury testimony, she said, "He's gone and aren't you happy."

Gabriel then found the body and called 911.

Contra Costa County Sheriff's Deputy Ken Hansen was among those who responded. He testified that Susan initially claimed she didn't know about the killing - and that when he told her Felix was dead, she said "Oh well ... We were getting a divorce anyway."

The coroner's report showed five stab wounds to his chest and stomach, defensive injuries on his hands and feet and "blunt force injuries" on his head, back and right knee - 27 wounds in all.

"The horrific nature of the ... stabbing wounds ... could indicate the perpetrator was in an altered mental state of rage," concluded forensic psychologist Paul Good. "She is not grossly out of touch with reality," he told the judge, but "her judgment and decision making could be seriously undermined by a paranoid delusional state."

A judge later ruled she was competent to stand trial.

Gabriel told police about his parents' fights - he remembered his father slapping her once, and "specifically recalled listening in on a phone conversation between his mother and father in which his mother threatened to kill his father."

Felix later told his friend and neighbor Barry Morris, a local criminal defense attorney, about the threat. It was a week before his death.

"He said he received a call from Susan from Montana and she said she bought a gun and was coming back to kill him," Morris recalls.

He urged Felix to call police - "I said, 'Felix don't you want to live? This is not a joke."'

Felix never contacted authorities.

Morris describes Felix as a gentle, caring man, not the monster Susan depicts.

"He was a pretty calm, even tempered person," Morris says. "From what he told me, she was the aggressor. She's delusional. She once claimed Felix was a member of Mossad, an Israeli agent."

Shifting in her chair in the jail's visiting room, Susan says "I'm scared to death I'm going to lose."

She still believes Gabriel will change his story and join Eli in her defense, pointing to their father as the aggressor and sparing her from a sentence of 25-years-to-life.

But she can't be sure. She hasn't been able to speak with Gabriel, who has been living with another family since the killing. Adam was away at college in Los Angeles at the time, and it's unclear where he stands on the charges. Eli, who was in juvenile detention for a fistfight when his father was killed, is apparently her only steadfast defender.

Eli didn't respond to interview requests and efforts to reach his brothers were unsuccessful. Prosecutors declined to comment.

Smiling gingerly, Susan tips her head down at the prospect of cross-examining her son.

"We're just going to talk, that's all," she says. "I never planned to murder my husband. He knows that."


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