MARTINEZ -- An expert witness called in the preliminary hearing of a husband and wife charged with the 2012 stabbing death of a Hercules woman testified Wednesday that the female defendant was as much a victim as an accomplice -- a contention challenged vigorously on cross examination.

Tania Washington, psychologist Dr. Donald Dutton said, suffered from battered woman syndrome, traumatic bonding and psychic freezing, and was a psychological hostage held by her husband Darnell Washington after she helped him escape from San Bernardino County jail on Aug. 28, 2012.

Investigators believe that together, the West Covina residents engaged in a crime spree that included a shootout in which Darnell Washington wounded a San Bernardino sheriff's deputy, several car jackings and the murder of Ko, a 55-year-old former kindergarten teacher.

Susie Ko was found dead in her Hercules, Calif., home on Oct. 5, 2012.
Susie Ko was found dead in her Hercules, Calif., home on Oct. 5, 2012. (Courtesy of Simon Ko)

The hearing is to determine if the Washingtons should stand trial for Ko's killing.

Wednesday's strategy indicated a divide in the defense of Tania Washington, represented by attorneys Larry Barnes and David Headley, and Darnell Washington, represented by public defender Timothy Ahern. Questioned by Barnes, Dutton testified that shortly after marrying Darnell Washington, Tania Washington was subjected to sexual, physical and emotional abuse.

Even so, Dutton said, she stood by her husband after he was arrested following an attempted jewelry heist in 2012, even considering stripping to raise money for his bail.

"Here was a person who on the surface was suffering considerable psychological trauma," Dutton said of Tania Washington.


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Prosecutor Molly Manoukian got Dutton to admit he based his professional opinion in part on Tania Washington's version of events, which he took at face value.

"If the facts are different, then the opinion might change," he said.

She also got Dutton to concede there is no eyewitness testimony to the alleged abuse Tania Washington suffered at the hands of her husband, and that "psychological hostage" and "psychic freezing" -- a person's instinct to stay in a dangerous situation rather than try to escape -- were not medical diagnoses.

Asked whether Tania Washington entered the residence where Ko was killed, Dutton said she told him she peeked in through the door from the garage to the house.

"And because you believed that, you didn't ask her if she killed Mrs. Ko?" Manoukian asked.

"Yes," Dutton answered.

The trial continues Thursday morning.

Contact Gary Peterson at 925-952-5053. Follow him at Twitter.com/garyscribe.


Judge Judy Johnson confers with attorneys prior to a plea hearing for Darnell Washington in Contra Costa County Superior Court in Richmond, Calif. on
Judge Judy Johnson confers with attorneys prior to a plea hearing for Darnell Washington in Contra Costa County Superior Court in Richmond, Calif. on Thursday, Nov. 8, 2012. Washington and his wife Tania Washington are charged with capital murder in the killing of retired Hercules school teacher Susie Ko. (Kristopher Skinner/Staff)