Defense attorney says mental state important in Hayward double murder trial

OAKLAND (BCN) — The mental state of a 39-year-old Union City man charged with two counts of murder for allegedly fatally stabbing two men at an auto auction lot in Hayward five years ago is the key issue in his trial, which began Tuesday, his attorney said.

William Linehan, the defense lawyer for Karl Sanft, said he doesn’t dispute prosecutor Warren Ko’s allegation that Sanft killed security guard Angelito Erasquin, a 63-year-old Hayward man, when Erasquin saw him steal a car.

Sanft then fatally stabbed truck driver James Wightman, a 63-year-old man from Central Point, Oregon, because Wightman had seen the killing and Sanft didn’t want to leave any witnesses behind, prosecutors said.

The incident occurred at about 3 a.m. on Feb. 2, 2010, at the Manheim San Francisco Bay lot at 1901 Addison Way in Hayward, a 73-acre property that houses more than 2,000 cars.

Linehan said that while he doesn’t contest the fact that Sanft killed Erasquin and Wightman, he believes Sanft should be found not guilty by reason of insanity because he suffered from methamphetamine-induced psychosis.

Linehan said Sanft began using methamphetamine in 2005 after his brother was murdered and his father died slowly after suffering from dementia.

In comments outside court after Ko presented his opening statement in the case, Linehan said Sanft “became a scary guy and a completely different person” and committed all the crimes described by the prosecutor.

The defense attorney said he asked that Sanft’s fate be decided by a judge in a court trial rather than by a jury in a jury trial because he thinks a judge can “dispassionately review the evidence since a jury would be overwhelmed by the horror of what happened.”

Linehan said that at the end of the trial, Alameda County Superior Court Judge Joseph Hurley will first decide what crimes Sanft is guilty of, if any, and then decide if he was sane at the time.

If Sanft is found to have been legally insane at the time of the killings, he would be committed to a mental institution instead of sentenced to state prison, Linehan said.

Ko told the judge that Sanft “should be held accountable for his actions” and should be convicted of two counts of murder and the special circumstances of committing multiple murders and committing a murder during a robbery.

Ko said Sanft drove his Mitsubishi Mirage car to the auto auction lot, rammed through the locked front gate and stole a 2005 Chevrolet TrailBlazer.

Erasquin tried to run away after he saw Sanft ram the gate and steal the SUV but Sanft, who is 6-foot-3 and weighed 316 pounds, was able to catch up with the security guard, stabbed him 17 times with a knife and stomped on Erasquin’s face so hard that his size 14 shoes left an imprint, Ko said.

Sanft then used a large piece of wood to smash the passenger window of Wightman’s truck, went inside and used the same knife, as well as a screwdriver, to fatally stab him, Ko alleged.

Wightman frequently delivered vehicles to the car auction lot and was using the site as a place to rest, according to Ko.

Wightman used a baseball bat to try to defend himself and the two men “were in a battle to the death” but “ultimately it was a fight that James Whitman lost,” Ko said.

Sanft was arrested in Sunnyvale several hours after the double killing.

Linehan, who won’t present his opening statement until next week, said Sanft told authorities after the killings that he committed them “at the behest of the FBI” in messages that the FBI transmitted via echoes.

Linehan said there isn’t a dispute that Sanft was intoxicated on methamphetamine at the time of the killings, but there is a dispute over whether he suffers from methamphetamine-induced psychosis, as the prosecution doesn’t think he does.

The defense attorney said psychologists who have examined Sanft are divided on whether he was sane at the time of the killings, with two saying he was sane and two saying he was insane.

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