SAN FRANCISCO – A woman accused of murdering her three young sons by tossing them into frigid San Francisco Bay was due back in court on Wednesday after saying God summoned her to sacrifice her children, her lawyer said.
Lashuan Harris, 23, who faces three counts of murder in last October's drownings, was diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic with delusional thought disorder, defense lawyer Teresa Caffese said at the mother's preliminary hearing in San Francisco Superior Court.
"The voice of God called upon her to sacrifice her three children," Caffese told a judge and courtroom filled with about a dozen of Harris' friends and family who cried and gasped during testimony.
"Why is the DA prosecuting a pathetically schizophrenic, poor, black woman?" she asked during a break in the hearing where a judge will decide whether there's enough evidence for a trial. "She loved her kids."
Debbie Mesloh, a spokeswoman for San Francisco District Attorney Kamala Harris, said it was up to the defense to present prosecutors with a psychiatric evaluation proving that Lashuan Harris' actions were not "willful, deliberate and premeditated," the standard for first-degree murder. As of Tuesday, they had not received such a report, Mesloh said.
"Until we are presented evidence on her mental state that she could not control herself or something else was driving her, the evidence remains the same," Mesloh said. "It's still an ongoing process."
Harris was arrested Oct. 19, shortly after she dropped her children, one by one, over a rail and into the bay from the end of Pier 7. Taronta Greeley Jr., 2, was buried. The bodies of Treyshun Harris, 6, and Joshoa Greeley, 16 months, were never recovered. Harris has pleaded not guilty.
Katherine Spring, who lives in San Antonio and was attending a meeting here last fall, said Harris made a "huge impression" as she jogged past on the Embarcadero.
"I was surprised that she was so out there. She was so not present. It struck me as kind of odd," Spring testified. "Her kids were having such a nice time and she wasn't. There was nothing there."
Spring said the children were clean and well-behaved, smiling, laughing and hanging off the stroller.
Caffese said her client was diagnosed schizophrenic several years ago. She was hospitalized once because she said God was telling her to jump out a window.
Harris crossed the bay from Oakland on the day of the killings because she was driven by voices in her head, Caffese said.
Harris, who wore a light blue pantsuit, white blouse and no handcuffs, showed little emotion as she listened to others recount that day.
The preliminary hearing, which typically starts with prosecutors presenting evidence, was held in reverse order so out-of-town witnesses could testify for the defense.
When prosecutors presented their case, they showed part of the video footage of the police interview with Harris immediately after the incident. She sounded groggy, almost drugged and the officers questioned her as if she was a child. Her answers were mumbled, quiet and she seemed confused about where she was and what day it was.
She told the investigators God "said I need to kill my kids," and she took them to the pier for that purpose.
Police officer Thomas Johnson testified that he found Harris at the scene pushing an empty stroller.
"Where did you put the babies?" he asked. Harris replied, "They're OK. They're with their father," Johnson said.
"Did you put the babies into the bay?" Johnson said. "To that question, Miss Harris shook her head up and down and said, 'Yes."
Testimony was expected to conclude Wednesday.