Verdict: Not Guilty 

Page 3 of 4

The evening of October 13 Susan went out to the guest cottage, where Felix was exiled, to discuss their divorce, according to her version of events. All too predictably, their discussion became heated. Susan says she believes it finally dawned upon Felix that she was leaving him for good. Felix, she says, also feared she might ruin him by disclosing their relationship's scandalous origin. After all, he still had a thriving private practice that had earned $170,000 the previous year.

According to Susan's statements to reporters and Horowitz' opening statement, here's what happened next: Felix "became enraged" and said she couldn't leave. He charged at her and she sprayed him in the eyes with pepper spray. But that only enraged him more, and he got on top of her, revealing that he had a paring knife.

Even at seventy, Felix was in good shape: A friend notes that Felix could still hike Mount Tamalpais, and Eli says his dad jogged regularly. At five foot nine and 165 pounds, he outweighed his wife by 50 pounds. Nevertheless, she told reporters, she managed to jar the knife loose from his hand by kicking him in the testicles. She grabbed it away from him and stabbed him five times. Bloodied and defeated, Felix stood up and said, "Oh my God, I think I'm dead." Then he collapsed.

What Susan Polk did next -- or, more precisely, didn't do -- is one of the most incriminating bits of evidence in her murder trial. As her husband lay dead in a pool of blood, she washed herself, returned to the main house, and went to bed. She didn't call police to report that she'd stabbed her husband in self-defense. When the cops did arrive the next night, Polk insisted she had no idea what had happened to her husband, or who had killed him. Horowitz explains that Susan, now 47, didn't think the police would believe she acted in self-defense against a respected psychologist, a pillar of the community.

Of course, the police aren't the only ones who don't believe Susan's story. Gabe, who found his father's body and called the police, and Adam, a student at UCLA when his father was killed, are both expected to testify for the prosecution. Gabe and Adam also have filed a wrongful death suit against their mother, and Horowitz has suggested that they therefore have a financial incentive. According to Horowitz, Susan was asked to settle for $300,000 prior to her first jury trial. There's some evidence suggesting Adam may be more equivocal than previously reported. In a January 25, 2004 e-mail to Eli, he wrote: "I don't believe my mother killed my father in cold blood but in self defense."


Epilogue

It's been more than three years since Susan Polk was arrested and charged with the murder of her husband -- the wheels of justice turn slowly in California. But Polk deserves some of the blame for the trial's glacial pace. She has fired at least two of her attorneys, and she says another one quit when she refused to make a deal with the DA. For the moment, she's represented by criminal lawyer Dan Horowitz, whose wife was slain shortly after his opening argument in the aborted first trial.

Before Horowitz came on board, though, the Orinda stay-at-home mom had planned to act as her own lawyer -- a high-risk proposition, especially for someone with no legal expertise. It also meant she would have to cross-examine the prosecution's star witness -- her own son, Gabe. The judge had questions about whether she was fit to act on her own behalf, but ultimately decided she was mentally competent.

In July, when she was still planning to represent herself, the Express asked Polk about her legal strategy. Her answers hinted that a delusional mind was at work. She said she planned to demonstrate that local law enforcement was biased against her. As proof, she cited a letter -- included in her criminal and divorce-case files -- in which she criticized a Contra Costa judge who presided over her son Eli's juvenile case. She also cryptically referred to another letter to the courts in which she accused the judge of taking a bribe from Felix to make sure Eli wouldn't have to serve time in juvenile hall.

At the time, she was evasive about the details of the second letter -- for good reason, it turned out: The bribe allegation was contained in a bizarre diary entry prosectors believe Susan had penned and sent to another Contra Costa judge. In it, she claimed Felix was an Israeli spy, among other things, and boasted that she was a medium who predicted the 9/11 attacks before they happened. During his opening argument, Horowitz wisely toned down his client's conspiracy theories about local law enforcement.

The prosecution has a strong case: Several people will testify that in the days before his death, Felix told them that Susan had threatened to kill him. Most damaging will be the testimony from Gabe, who is expected to say his mom openly fantasized about killing Felix. The district attorney's camp will argue that Susan made good on her violent promises.

The case has its flaws, however, particularly when it comes to motive. The DA's theory basically says that Susan flipped out after the divorce-court judge slashed her alimony and gave Felix control of their $2 million house and custody of Gabe. But Susan has reasonably pointed out that Felix was her only means of financial support, and it would make no sense for her to sever that. Complicating matters, of course, was the manipulative way Felix seduced Susan as a teenager, and the fact that he was a diagnosed schizophrenic.

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