REDWOOD CITY -- Attempted murder charges were dropped against a Marin County personal trainer accused of trying to throw his wife off the San Mateo Bridge after he agreed to plead no contest to felony domestic abuse charges.
Xavier McClinton, 47, pleaded to the lesser charge Monday on the condition he would receive a maximum seven years in prison. He will return to court for a sentencing hearing May 16, when his attorney will try to reduce the time he will spend behind bars.
Though the defense took what prosecutors called a "unique approach" to getting him off for attempted murder when they summoned a forensic psychologist to testify on his behalf, District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe said the plea bargain had more to do with the fact that his wife had stood by his side, maintaining that his actions Dec. 13 were the result of newfound paranoid episodes.
"We had a victim that was reluctant, and still wanting to be in contact with him," Wagstaffe said. "It was decided by my prosecutor to find the middle ground."
McClinton's attorney, Anthony Brass, said his client was aware he suffered from paranoid episodes that were escalating, and that he called police two days before his arrest to request a mental evaluation. He was sent home after authorities determined he was not a threat.
The man had been taking psychiatric medication for one day when the incident occurred, he said.
"He saw this coming and tried to take responsible steps," Brass said. "And then he had a complete mental breakdown."
Forensic psychologist William French testified in February that McClinton does suffer from bipolar disorder and paranoia, but did not say anything to sway the judge toward eliminating the attempted murder charge, according to prosecutors.
McClinton's wife testified her husband was hearing voices during their car ride through the North Bay, San Francisco and the Peninsula. He sat in the passenger seat unnerved by other cars around him, convinced that someone was trying to hurt them.
Shortly after they crossed the Golden Gate Bridge, McClinton jerked the steering wheel to one side, scaring his wife to the point she no longer wished to drive. They switched seats, and he began driving more erratically than normal -- obeying stop signs and speed limits but swerving and failing to yield for pedestrians.
At one point, McClinton warned "If I go down, you go down," the woman said. While prosecutors interpreted the statement as a threat, the defense argued it was his reason for not stopping the car when asked -- he was convinced "they" would get his wife, too.
While authorities originally said the man tried to drive off the bridge before pulling his wife from the passenger seat on eastbound Highway 92, the woman testified she was the one who crashed the car, grabbing the wheel on purpose to "end the situation."
"He wasn't Xavier. He was someone else," she said. "I didn't know what he was going to do."
Multiple witnesses said the pair were in "mutual combat" with arms flailing as the car swerved in and out of lanes. As the woman grabbed the wheel, it hit the left guard rail and ricocheted across all lanes before coming to a rest.
Witnesses said McClinton lifted his wife across lanes of traffic, then held her in his arms as he tried to fall backward over the rail. Bystanders pulled her to safety as McClinton fell 15-20 feet into the water, where he remained for about 30 minutes before he was found clinging to a pier.
The last thing the woman remembered was trying to take the keys from the ignition, and claimed to have no recollection of anything further. She came to in the back of a police car, with no memory of being forcibly grabbed from the car.
While McClinton suffered no major injuries, his wife received a major gash to her face that required extensive suturing. She told investigators she could not remember how she acquired the wound.
Contact Erin Ivie at firstname.lastname@example.org.