MARTINEZ -- The Southern California man accused of stabbing to death a retired schoolteacher in Hercules tried to escape from a Contra Costa County jail, a prosecutor revealed during a hearing Monday into Darnell Washington's alleged crime spree.
The 2012 murder for which Washington was arrested occurred after he broke out of a San Bernardino jail. In his months in custody in Contra Costa, Washington tried to "carve" his way out a window of his cell, fashioning a rope out of bed sheets and hoarding multiple shanks, prosecutor Molly Manoukian said during a preliminary court hearing. And a year before his successful escape from the San Bernardino County jail, he tried to escape from the same facility, bolting from a police interview room before he was quickly captured, she said.
Manoukian mentioned the escape attempts after Washington's attorney asked the judge to allow his client to sit in court unshackled. As six sheriff's deputies looked on, Judge Patricia Scanlon said Washington's hands were not restrained and called the shackles to his chair "fairly unobtrusive" and denied the request.
Darnell and his wife, Tania Washington, both 26-year-old West Covina residents, have pleaded not guilty to the Oct. 5, 2012, murder of Susie Ko, 55, during a robbery, burglary and carjacking. The couple are eligible for the death penalty, but Manoukian said her office would not decide whether to pursue capital punishment until the conclusion of the preliminary hearing, which is expected to last through Wednesday.
The Washingtons' alleged crime spree began Aug. 28, 2012, after Tania Washington helped her husband break out of a San Bernardino County jail. Darnell Washington scaled a 10-foot-high fence at the facility, where he was in custody awaiting trial on armed robbery charges. A week later, while on the lam, Darnell Washington allegedly shot and wounded a Los Angeles County Sheriff's deputy with a shotgun.
After the Contra Costa case is resolved, the Washingtons will return to Los Angeles County for prosecution on charges of attempted murder on a peace officer, carjacking and attempted carjacking.
After fleeing north, the Washingtons are accused of stealing a hacksaw from a Pinole Kmart. Following a confrontation with store employees, the couple ditched their stolen truck a freeway exit away from Ko's house.
The couple is accused of fatally stabbing Ko and stealing her money and car.
The couple were eventually arrested Oct. 10, 2012, after they led Sea Tac, Washington, police on a high-speed pursuit with Ko's stolen Subaru Outback and ramming a patrol car.
At Monday's hearing, Tania Washington sat in the jury box wearing a green jumpsuit with her hair pulled back in a ponytail, crying when she first walked in and shaking throughout the proceedings. As detectives discussed how Ko was stabbed 18 times, she covered her ears, cried softly and swayed back and forth.
Darnell Washington, wearing a yellow jail-issued jumpsuit, sat quietly throughout the hearing.
A couple dozen family and friends of Ko sat in the audience, some softly crying at times as crime scene investigators described how Ko's bloodied body was found in the entryway of her quiet Hercules home in the 100 block of Ash Court. A neighbor found a lifeless Ko after her husband asked the neighbor to check on his wife because she failed to pick him up from Oakland International Airport.
Law enforcement witnesses Monday described finding two folding knives and a loaded, 12-gauge sawed-off shotgun in Ko's stolen car.
Testimony also painted a brief picture of Ko's final hours.
The retiree spent the day gardening in her front yard with her neighbor, working to remove a tree, Hercules police officer Dwayne Collard testified. Several hours before she was found dead, the officer said, Ko rang the doorbell of her friend and gave her some hand-picked roses, thanking her for helping with her gardening project.
Contact Matthias Gafni at 925-952-5026. Follow him at Twitter.com/mgafni.