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Columbia Park murder case now in jury's hands

Crazy or crazy like a fox? Prosecutor Andy Miller told Benton County Superior Court jurors that's the question they need to answer when deciding the fate of murder suspect Phiengchai Sisouvanh Synhavong.

Miller said the now 25-year-old Kennewick woman knew what she was doing when she met a pregnant Araceli Camacho Gomez at a bus stop in Pasco and made plans later to get her alone by using a ruse to give her baby clothes.

She had lied to her family about being pregnant and decided to kill the 27-year-old Pasco mother, cut Camacho Gomez's baby from the womb and try to claim him as her own.

"The reality is ... she did not commit a perfect crime," Miller told jurors Monday afternoon during closing arguments. "Being illogical is not the same thing as being insane, (and) being insane is certainly different with all the steps that she took to conceal and hide ... what she was doing."

Defense attorneys, however, say their client was in a dissociative rage and unaware of what she was doing when she repeatedly stabbed Camacho Gomez and ripped out her baby. Dan Arnold said Sisouvanh Synhavong's mental defect began as a child when she grew up in a prison camp in Thailand and was severely beaten and verbally abused by her mother.

"The act itself is crazy. The act itself is insane," Arnold said. "It was the result of psychotic thinking. It was illogical. It was crazy."

The 14-member jury panel, which was narrowed to 12 after two alternates were selected following closing arguments, left the courtroom around 4 p.m. Monday to begin deliberations. Jurors stayed for about an hour before leaving for the night and were expected to return at 9 a.m. today to resume deliberations.

Sisouvanh Synhavong has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity to aggravated first-degree murder.

Jurors have to first decide whether Sisouvanh Synhavong is guilty of the June 27, 2008, death of Camacho Gomez, whose body was found in Columbia Park after Sisouvanh Synhavong called 911 saying she had just given birth and her baby wasn't breathing.

After examining Sisouvanh Synhavong and the baby, Salvador Gomez, doctors at Kennewick General Hospital determined Sisouvanh Synhavong was not the mother.

Judge Robert Swisher went over 21 instructions for the jury to consider while deliberating. The instructions include details on the specific elements of the charge, aggravating circumstances and what has to be determined to find Sisouvanh Synhavong was insane at the time the crime was committed.

If jurors unanimously agree Sisouvanh Synhavong is responsible for the murder, they have to then decide if she knew what she was doing or if she was unable to tell right from wrong.

Miller has already decided not to seek the death penalty in the case, so if Sisouvanh Synhavong is convicted, she will be sentenced to life in prison.

If acquitted by reason of insanity, she would be turned over to the state Department of Social and Health Services to determine how long she would be committed to a state mental hospital.

Arnold said Sisouvanh Synhavong was in such a rage when she stabbed Camacho Gomez that she wasn't aware of the number of times she stabbed her and that she goes in and out of her dissociative state within seconds.

He said she didn't have a plan or know what she was doing was wrong because there was nothing clandestine or sneaky when she went to the pay phone to call Camacho Gomez and contacted two witnesses to help translate for her.

She wasn't wearing a disguise, she didn't bring a blanket, sterile sheets or even a clamp for the umbilical cord, Arnold said. He also said if Sisouvanh Synhavong had planned the attack on Camacho Gomez, she wouldn't have pulled over in a turnout just past the blue bridge on the heavily traveled Highway 395.

She then frantically called 911 and screamed for help about her baby dying, he said.

"You can hear it in the tone of her voice. She believes it's her baby dying," Arnold said. "The non-insane person never calls police. This baby is hers now. It's crazy. It's crazy, but that's what this case is about."

Arnold told jurors the fair verdict, after reviewing all the evidence, is to find his client not guilty by reason of insanity.

Miller, however, told jurors that evidence shows Sisouvanh Synhavong was not insane because she was able to remember the phone number to contact Camacho Gomez and when she picked her up Sisouvanh Synhavong had her get in the backseat of the car that had the child locks on so Camacho Gomez couldn't get out, he said.

Sisouvanh Synhavong had gauze, twine, gloves, a mucus bulb used to clear a newborn's airway and a knife in the first aid kit.

"This was not a first-aid knife. This was a knife taken from the kitchen," Miller told jurors Monday afternoon during closing arguments. "This was a knife that could be used to stab and stab and stab a person and then could be used to methodically cut a uterus open and remove a baby."

Sisouvanh Synhavong stabbed Camacho Gomez 47 times, but if she was in a rage like defense attorneys claim, the stab wounds would have been in an indiscriminate pattern, Miller said as he showed jurors two graphic autopsy pictures.

Camacho Gomez was stabbed over her chest, lungs, hands and arms as she "desperately fought for her life," but there were no stab wounds around her uterus.

"When Araceli was being stabbed to death by the defendant, it was not rage. It was the act of killing Araceli so she could take out (the baby)," Miller said. "They were deep enough to cut the uterus open, but not a single wound, but not a single cut, inflicted any injury to Salvador Gomez."

Miller said Camacho Gomez's legacy is that she raised her son Juan Gomez Jr. to be a "strong, courageous man" who was able to take the witness stand and tell the truth about meeting Sisouvanh Synhavong on what would be the last time he saw his mother alive.

"We have one more thing that needs to be done for Araceli's legacy -- to find justice for this horrible, for this terrible, for this tragic crime," Miller said, adding that Sisouvanh Synhavong is not insane; she's guilty of aggravated first-degree murder.

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