Susan Polk (born Susan Mae Bolling in 1957) is an American woman convicted in June 2006 of second degree (unpremeditated) murder for the 2002 death of her husband, Dr. Frank "Felix" Polk. Polk's trial, described by one Associated Press correspondent as "circus-like", drew extensive media attention with its sensationalist elements.
Susan Polk met Dr. Polk, a psychotherapist, in 1972 when administrators at her high school recommended she see him to treat her panic attacks. Susan Polk later claimed that Dr. Polk first had sex with her when she was sixteen and still under his treatment, a taboo and a violation of professional ethics in the relationship between therapist and patient, which is now illegal in California. At the time, Dr. Polk had a wife and two children, though that couple subsequently divorced in 1982.
After graduating from high school, Polk attended Mills College and San Francisco State University before, in 1982, marrying Dr. Polk, who was then an instructor at the California Graduate School of Family Psychology, and an occasional consultant as well as a private practitioner. At the time of their wedding, Polk was 24 and her husband 50. During their marriage, the couple had three sons. In 2001, Dr. Polk filed for divorce, a complicated and contentious proceeding during which each contacted police with allegations of domestic violence. In 2002, after Dr. Polk claimed that Susan had abandoned him, the courts granted Dr. Polk sole custody of the couple's minor son, Gabriel Polk, and sharply reduced Susan's alimony. Dr. Polk also won sole possession of their house. Police records indicate that Dr. Polk reported threats from his wife.
On Wednesday, October 9, Polk went to the home to retrieve her belongings and complete her dental procedure by having a permanent crown put on her tooth. That Friday, October 11, the eldest son, Adam, came home from UCLA to pick up his dog. The following day, Sunday, October 13, Dr. Polk, Adam, and the youngest son Gabriel drove Adam and the dog back to UCLA. Dr. Polk and Gabriel returned home at around 9:30 pm. Dr. Polk, then 70, was found dead the next day, Monday, October 14, 2002. Dr. Polk had 27 wounds on his body, including 15 stab wounds and evidence of blunt force trauma. Polk, too, was cut and scratched and had "red discoloration around her eyes, bite marks on the hand and a red welt on her shoulder".
At trial, prosecutors sought a conviction of murder in the first degree, contending that Susan Polk planned the murder of her multimillionaire husband for money. Susan Polk first denied knowledge of, or involvement in, Felix Polk's death and then claimed self-defense, asserting that, after years of beating and sexually abusing her, he brandished a kitchen knife against her. She stated that she took control of the weapon and stabbed him instead. As an expert witness for the defense, forensic pathologist Dr. John Cooper testified that Felix Polk's death was caused by heart disease and that his stab wounds were not life-threatening and were evidence that Susan Polk delivered them in self-defense. Dr. Cooper failed to appear in court the following day to continue being cross-examined and to present documents he claimed to have received from Susan Polk, sending a written explanation to the judge. He returned with the letters a week later to resume testimony. Prosecuting attorneys dismissed Susan Polk's claim, arguing that she had no defensive wounds from her husband's alleged attack.
The court was forced to declare a mistrial when the wife of Susan Polk's then-counsel, Daniel Horowitz, was murdered in an unrelated incident. Susan fired her attorneys to represent herself. She supported her defense with allegations of a history of marital and professional misconduct, including claims that Dr. Felix Polk had drugged and raped her when she was a teenager, brainwashed the couple's children, and threatened to kill her if she tried to leave him. She also claimed to be a psychic with foreknowledge of the September 11 attacks that could have been used to thwart the attacks if "her husband hadn't prevented her from alerting authorities", asserting that her husband was an Israeli spy who was passing her psychic prediction to Mossad. Susan Polk repeatedly requested a second mistrial, lodging accusations of conspiracy against the prosecutor and the judge. During her closing statements, Susan Polk, who had refused to pursue a line of defense based on mental illness, questioned whether public perception that she was delusional was coloring opinions of her guilt.
Each of Susan and Felix's children testified at the trial. The youngest son, Gabriel, who had found the body, testified that his mother had speculated about means of killing her husband in the weeks before his father's death. The oldest son, Adam, also testified against his mother, receiving widespread media coverage when he referred to her on the stand as "cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs". The middle son, Eli, testified on Susan's behalf, that Felix was the unstable parent.
Jurors disagreed that the crime was premeditated, finding her guilty of second degree murder. Sentenced to prison for a term of 16 years to life, Polk's conviction is on appeal. She will be eligible for parole in 2017. Susan Polk was transferred to the California Institution for Women (CIW), a dorm-like prison, in Corona (near Chino), CA, in December 2012.
- Crier, Catherine (February 20, 2007). Final Analysis: The Untold Story of the Susan Polk Murder Case. William Morrow. ISBN 0-06-113452-X.
- Pogash, Carol (May 29, 2007). Seduced by Madness: The True Story of the Susan Polk Murder Case. William Morrow. ISBN 0-06-114770-2.
- Smith, Carlton (July 31, 2007). Mind Games: The True Story of a Psychologist, His Wife, and a Brutal Murder. St. Martin's True Crime. ISBN 0-312-93906-X.
- McKinley, Jesse. (June 17, 2006) Conviction concludes bizarre trial for murder. The New York Times. Retrieved 30-01-08.
- CBS 5, San Francisco. (June 16, 2006) Jurors find Susan Polk guilty Of 2nd Degree Murder cbs5.com. Retrieved 30-01-08.
- AP. (June 16, 2006) Woman guilty of slaying husband-shrink CBS News. Retrieved 30-01-08.
- Lee, Henry K. (February 23, 2007). Murderer Susan Polk loses bid for new trial. San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 31-01-08.
- Pogash, Carol. (September 18, 2005) A California murder case raises troubling issues The New York Times. Retrieved 30-01-08.
- Pogash, Carol. (June 15, 2003) No ordinary murder. Originally published in Los Angeles Times Sunday Magazine. Hosted at pogash.com. Retrieved 31-01-08.
- Sweetingham, Lisa. (February 23, 2007) Susan Polk, defiant at sentencing, gets maximum term for fatally stabbing her husband Court TV. Retrieved 31-01-08.
- Tatko-Peterson, Ann. (March 9, 2007) New Crier book dissects Polk murder case. Oakland Tribune. Hosted at bnet.com. Retrieved 31-01-08.
- Sweetingham, Lisa. (June 16, 2006) Polk guilty of killing therapist husband. CNN. Retrieved 31-01-08.
- Morrison, Keith. (May 19, 2007) A murder trial that grew more bizarre with every turn Dateline NBC transcript. Hosted by msnbc.com. Retrieved 30-01-08.
- Dearen, Jason. (May 5, 2006) Expert witness: Polk not guilty "Oakland Tribune". Retrieved 18/03/08.
- Court TV News. Dr. John Cooper's letter to the judge courttv.com. Retrieved 18/03/08.
- Dearen, Jeff. (May 16, 2006) Missing pathologist returns Oakland Tribune. Retrieved 17/05/08.
- Associated Press. (June 16, 2006). Jury finds Polk guilty of 2nd-degree murder. MSNBC. Retrieved 31-01-08.