A woman accused of fatally stabbing a construction worker in San Francisco’s South of Market neighborhood and attempting to kill a Tenderloin parking lot attendant took the stand Monday in her own defense, describing years of physical and sexual abuse she endured as a child and teen.
Lizette Cauich, a 25-year-old from the Los Angeles area, is on trial with her co-defendant Oscar Mendez, 44, in the June 10, 2016 death of Mitzi Campbell in the area of Fifth and Folsom streets and a stabbing that nearly killed parking lot attendant Amar Dahmi on May 29, 2016.
Cauich, who was caught on video swinging wildly and repeatedly at Campbell with a knife and then rolling her over and going through her pockets after she fell, faces a more serious murder charge in that case. Mendez is charged only as an accessory for attempting to help her get away afterward.
Deputy Public Defender Eric Quandt, who represents Cauich, told jurors in opening statements that his client has post-traumatic stress disorder after years of abuse and is highly sensitive to threatening situations.
He argued that both Campbell and Dahmi had attacked Cauich first, Campbell by pulling her hair and yelling at her, and that Cauich had responded with excessive violence because of her past trauma.
Cauich Monday told jurors she had been physically and sexually abused by her stepfather, resulting in several interventions by child protective services and calls to police. Frequently speaking through tears, she described seeing her mother attacked:
“David had my mother pushed up on the wall in the garage and I tried to be there for my mother but she told me to go upstairs.”
She became intermittently homeless by her teens, moving in and out of foster care, and experienced further abuse in her relationships and violence on the street before beginning a volatile relationship with Mendez.
The two moved to San Francisco in May of 2016 hoping to start a new life, but did not have a place to stay, Cauich said. They stayed in homeless shelters most nights and occasionally slept on the streets in the days leading up to the stabbings.
Both stabbings occurred after Cauich was denied permission to use portable restrooms on site.
Prosecutor Andrew Ganz told jurors in opening statements the attacks occurred because of Cauich’s anger and temper, and “because when she was told no, she couldn’t take it.”
Defense attorneys have also presented testimony in the case from psychologist Bernadette O’Leary, who treated Cauich for PTSD when she was a teenager, and from Jennifer Friedenbach, executive director of the Coalition on Homelessness, on life as a homeless person in San Francisco.
Cauich is expected to continue her testimony Tuesday.