Phiengchai Sisouvanh Synhavong was living in a fantasy world when she allegedly killed a pregnant woman and cut a baby out of her womb in June 2008, her defense laywers said.
But the jury appeared riveted to Prosecutor Andy Miller's description of the defendant's actions before and after Araceli Camacho Gomez was killed as the aggravated first-degree murder trial began Monday in Benton County Superior Court.
Defense attorney Michael Iaria countered by laying out an insanity defense, saying he would show that a childhood of physical, mental and sexual abuse had left the defendant unable to know right from wrong at the time Camacho Gomez was killed.
Sisouvanh Synhavong attended court in a black pantsuit and appeared to spend most of the day looking straight ahead, not at the jury or attorneys or witnesses who spoke.
Miller started his account with Camacho Gomez meeting Sisouvanh Synhavong when she approached the pregnant young mother and her two children at a bus stop near their home.
"This lady came and she asked was my mom pregnant," Juan Campos Gomez Jr., now 13, testified Monday. It was the last day he saw his mother alive, he said.
The woman asked questions until she learned that his mother was almost nine months pregnant and expecting a boy, Campos Gomez told the court in a quiet voice.
The woman said she too was expecting, but was having a girl and already had bought boy clothes, Campos Gomez said.
Sisouvanh Synhavong offered his mother the clothes and the boy gave the woman their telephone number and home address so she could drop the clothes off that afternoon, he told the court.
That evening when Juan Campos Gomez Sr. came home from work, he took the two kids to the grocery store, the son said.
Juan Campos Gomez Sr. also testified Monday and told the court that when he came home from the store his wife was gone and he immediately became very uneasy. The door was open and although his wife always turned everything electrical off when she left the house, the TV and lights were on.
He called police after checking to see if she was with friends or had gone to the hospital, he said.
Miller said in his opening arguments that evidence and witnesses would show that Sisouvanh Synhavong went back to meet the pregnant mother that afternoon equipped with a knife in her purse, box cutters, latex and heavy gloves, gauze, a cord that was later found bound around the dead woman's hands, and a suction bulb of the type that doctors use to clear the airways of just-born babies.
Sisouvanh Synhavong and Camacho Gomez drove off together. Sisouvanh Synhavong stopped at a pullout near the blue bridge, where she repeatedly stabbed the pregnant mother in the back seat of the car, Miller said.
She left her body in Columbia Park near heavy brush and then drove away, calling 911, Miller said.
In a recording of the call played by defense, a frantic Sisouvanh Synhavong screamed, "My baby is dying. Hurry up."
Emergency personnel found her in the blood-covered back seat of her car at an Edison Street parking lot with her pants off and her underwear pulled down, holding a baby who was not breathing, Kennewick police and firefighters told the court.
The baby, Salvador Campos Gomez, was cool, had no heartbeat and had an umbilical cord that had been cut, but not clamped to stop the baby from bleeding, emergency workers said.
His father testified that Salvador, now 2, has serious disabilities because of his birth but is improving.
The baby and Sisouvanh Synhavong were taken in ambulances to Kennewick General Hospital, where it became apparent to nurses and a doctor that she had not given birth, Miller said. She had bruises and cuts and a nurse saw bloody gauze and gloves in her purse, Miller said.
When Detective Ryan Kelly of the Kennewick Police Department questioned her at the hospital, she said, "I went crazy," Kelly testified.
She said the real mother was near some bushes in the park and "I don't think she's OK," Kelly said she told him. She also said that she had thought she was pregnant, but wasn't and that her family still thought she was expecting a baby, Kelly said.
She told nurses not to tell her family or the Tri-City Herald, Miller said.
Iaria countered that Sisouvanh's frantic voice on the 911 call was the voice of a mother who "believed in her broken and defective mind that the baby she called Johnny was hers."
She has been diagnosed with pseudologia fantastica and dissociative disorder, he said. As a child she began to remove her vulnerable and developing mind from the chaos around her, he said.
As the mind struggles to get away, it fragments into pieces that allow it to leave the real world behind, he said. The fragmented mind then can look back at the real self experiencing pain, he said.
Sisouvanh Synhavong has limited memories of the night she is accused of killing Camacho Gomez, but before the "re-integration" of her mind, she saw two fat women fighting, Iaria said.
She had a horrible childhood, born into an arranged marriage in a refugee camp in Thailand to a Laotian mother who had little to do with her, Iaria said. Her family immigrated to Minnesota when she was 6. When she was 9, she was taken to an emergency room after a beating inflicted by her mother because she didn't like how the little girl was brushing her hair, Iaria said.
As she grew older she began to live a fantasy life that reflected the all-American-girl life so different from her own, Iaria said.
She sent out invitations inviting friends to a wedding with a nonexistent groom, he said. When guests showed up, she said they had missed the wedding and she started using the groom's last name at work, he said.
She told a former lover two years later that she had borne his son and talked in the child's voice on the telephone, her attorney said. When the father came to visit from California, she told him the 2-year-old was away at soccer camp, Iaria said. The day before the murder, he "blew her off," Iaria said.
Over five years she had repeatedly shown keen interest in pregnant women and claimed she also was pregnant, he said.
The trial continues today at the Benton County Justice Center in Kennewick.
w Annette Cary: 582-1533; firstname.lastname@example.org