There's no doubt that Shanna Wills repeatedly attacked her parents last year at their Denair home moments before she stabbed them, fatally wounding her father and seriously injuring her mother.
A jury will have to determine why she assaulted Kenneth and Susan Wills, whether she intended to hurt them, and if she was sane when she did it.
Stanislaus County Superior Court Judge John Freeland on Thursday ruled that there was sufficient evidence for Wills, 18, to stand trial on charges of murder, attempted murder and assault with a deadly weapon in the attack on her parents on Mother's Day, May 8, 2011. She was 17 at the time but is being prosecuted as an adult.
Freeland said there was no medical evidence presented in the preliminary hearing that showed Wills was suffering a psychotic episode, but witness testimony strongly suggested that she was.
But the judge said suffering a psychotic episode, in itself, does not rule out premeditation.
"It's the defendant's own words that hurt her here," Freeland said in court.
In his closing argument, Deputy District Attorney Randy Fischer emphasized testimony from sheriff's deputy Nathan Malone, who said Wills told him, "I was planning this. I had to do it."
She also told the deputy that Jesus told her she had to do it. She said this as she lay nude inside an overflowing bathtub after the attack.
"This was a sustained assault," Fischer argued. "This wasn't a lash(ing) out with one single blow."
Deputy Public Defender Greg Spiering, Wills' attorney, argued that it's not clear whether the deputy's quotes of Wills' statements were accurate. He said the deputy didn't take notes at the crime scene and wrote his report several hours later.
Spiering also argued that it's not clear what Wills was talking about when she referred to "planning." He said Wills could have meant planning a Mother's Day celebration, her redemption or her ascension as a female God.
"This was motivated by her inner psychosis," Spiering argued, later referring to his client's "magical, disorganized thinking."
He argued that the attack's brutality cannot be the only indication it was premeditated.
Wills cut her father's forehead with a large piece of a porcelain horse statue, then hit him over the head with a vacuum as he leaned over the kitchen sink, trying to wash away blood dripping into his eyes, Fischer said. She returned to the kitchen with an upright electrical fan and hit him again, Fischer said.
The attack continued with Wills hitting her parents with a brass horse as they walked down the hall. Fischer reminded the judge of how Wills reportedly ordered her parents to kneel just before she stabbed her mother in the back with a decorative knife.
"When you take that knife and you plunge it into someone's back, you're intending to kill," Fischer argued.
Kenneth Wills, 62, died from blood loss from six stab wounds. Susan Wills, then 61, survived her injuries and testified at her daughter's preliminary hearing.
Spiering argued that his client's state of mind is the key issue. He believes Wills' actions were rash and a product of her mental disease; they were not deliberate.
The fact that Wills was found floating nude in the bathtub indicates that she had no escape planned, which is essential in plotting a murder, he said.
"That's not planning; there was none," Spiering argued before referring to the troubled relationship between Wills and her father.
Wills at one point lived with 17-year-old Forrest Purdom's family for three weeks because she was having trouble at home, Purdom testified Thursday.
"My mom knew she was being abused," Purdom said on the witness stand.
He spoke in court about Wills cutting flowers at his family's Denair farmhouse, placing them in any jar or glass container she could find.
Purdom said he visited Wills at her home about 10 a.m., several hours before the attack. He testified that she decorated the house with rose petals and placed her mother's favorite foods on the table for a special family meal.
He said he saw Kenneth Wills yell at his daughter that her mother wouldn't like what she had done and she should leave. He was "very aggressive toward her," Purdom testified.
He said he left about 30 minutes later and didn't see Wills again until that night as she was driven away in a sheriff's patrol car.
'She seemed scared'
Three days before the attack, Wills sought help at the rural Denair home of Ray Mendonca. He didn't know her, but she told him she got in a car with a stranger and had been dropped off.
"To me, she seemed scared," Mendonca testified Thursday.
After speaking to her for about 45 minutes, he learned Wills was more afraid about how her parents would react if they found out what she had done. Mendonca testified Wills showed him a large bruise on her left shoulder and worried about being hurt like that again.
Wills called a friend, Mendonca said, who picked her up at his home. He testified that he and his wife wanted to report what they learned, but Wills asked them not to get her father in trouble.
After hearing of the stabbings and telling sheriff's officials about their encounter with Wills, Mendonca testified, "I was kind of upset that there could've been more we could've done to prevent it."
Wills is to return to court July 16 for an arraignment hearing. She remains in custody at Juvenile Hall, where she'll be until she turns 19 in November.
Wills could change her plea to not guilty by reason of insanity. A court-appointed mental health expert would then examine Wills and determine if she was sane when she attacked her parents, a process that would delay the trial.
Bee staff writer Rosalio Ahumada can be reached at email@example.com or (209) 578-2394.