Lashuan Harris is a diagnosed paranoid schizophrenic who says she heard the voice of God telling her to sacrifice her three children on the day she killed them by throwing them into the San Francisco Bay, a public defender argued Tuesday.
On a videotape played before Judge Teri Jackson during a preliminary hearing for three counts of murder, Harris, 23, told San Francisco police Inspector Daniel Everson that she heard voices in her head the morning of Oct. 19, 2005, telling her to kill her sons. Later that day, witnesses saw her throw her sons Treyshaun Harris, 6, Toranta Greeley, 2, and Joshua Greeley, 1, into the Bay off of The City's Pier 7. Toranta's body was the only one recovered.
Harris’ voice on the tape was barely audible. She sometimes covered her face with her hands. She said the last meal her children ever ate was hot dogs and slushies from a hot-dog vendor near Pier 39. She said she had been to the hospital in the past because she heard voices.
When asked about what happened at Pier 7, the Oakland resident hid her face again and groaned. A former nurse’s assistant, she had been treated and released for schizophrenia and was living at a Salvation Army emergency family shelter in Oakland. Family and friends, many of whom were present in court Tuesday, have said she was a devoted mother. They declined to comment at the hearing.
Defense attorney Teresa Caffese hopes that Harris’ mental illness and delusions at the time of the killing will lead the San Francisco District Attorney’s Office to drop the first-degree murder charges and assign her to a hospital to receive psychiatric treatment. Harris is eligible for the death penalty. There has been no bargaining on the case.
“She didn't want to sacrifice the three most important people in her life,” Caffese said.
Witnesses who had been present on the pier before and after the killings described Harris as disheveled and vacant-looking while her children were cleaner, tidier and more alert.
“They were extremely happy, laughing,” Texas resident Katherine Spring said of the children. “She was staring straight ahead, almost like she was in a trance.”
Assistant District Attorney Linda Allen called up witnesses from the police and Medical Examiner’s Office, who testified to the deaths of the children and the loss of the two boys’ bodies in the strong ebb tide that night.
A witness heard one boy say “something to the effect of ‘Mommy, don't do it,’” before Harris threw him, stripped, over the pier’s railing, Officer Thomas Johnson said.
The preliminary hearing continues today. The judge will determine from the hearing whether the case will go to trial.