MARTINEZ — In October 2002, Gabriel Polk found his father’s bloody corpse lying on the floor of his family’s pool house. On Wednesday, he walked stiffly into a quiet, packed courtroom to testify against his mother for his father’s murder.
Susan Polk, 48, stood at the defendant’s table and watched her son’s every step with her arms folded. Gabriel, 19, looked at the ground as he passed her on his way to the witness stand. The six-man, six-woman jury who will decide whether or not Susan Polk killed her husband Frank “Felix” Polk in self-defense or cold-blooded anger sat motionless.
It was rare courtroom drama seeing a son testify against his mother, but the proceedings became more unique when Susan Polk — who is representing herself — rose from her chair to cross examine her son after prosecutor Paul Sequeira finished his direct examination.
At the beginning of his testimony for prosecutors, Gabriel wasted no time in stating his mind. When asked by prosecutor Sequeira why he had not been living with his family since his fathers death, the nervous young man replied, “About four years ago my mother murdered my father.”
His older brother, Adam Polk, 23, is scheduled to testify for prosecutors next. The middle son, Eli Polk, 20, will testify on his mothers behalf when she presents her case.
Susan Polk admits that she stabbed her husband to death on Oct. 13, 2002, but says that it was in self-defense of an attack after she told him she was never coming back to him. Sequeira points to the vicious divorce proceedings between the Polks, and says a court ruling just before Felixs death that stripped Susan of custody of Gabriel and a lot of money in support payments was the final straw for her.
While Susan maintains she was abused by her psychologist husband — the two met when she was his teenage therapy patient and began an illicit relationship — Gabriel testified that it was his mother who was the aggressor in most domestic arguments. Gabriel described his home life growing up as rife with volcanic arguments between his mother and father.
However, while little physical abuse occurred a war over loyalty from the children raged quietly. Gabriel said his mother filled his head with negative stories about his father that fractured the family.
She said that Adam was successful (in school) because my father has chosen him to succeed, and us, me and Eli, to fail, by using his influence and power over the faculty to give us Fs, Gabriel said. Gabriel said he rarely went to school because his mother wanted him to stay home, and that his grades went down because of that.
It was easier to accept me failing because of him rather than myself, Gabriel said, admitting that for much of his childhood he was brainwashed by his mother to distrust his father.
Susan Polk fought back tears when she rose to cross examine her son. She wore a white knit blouse over a blue shirt and a green skirt over her slight body.
Gabriel looked at her coldly.
Much of her questions were geared toward taking Gabriel down memory lane, asking if he remembered the homes they lived in, trips they took and how hard she worked raising him and his brothers.
Susan asked her son if he remembered being taken out of nursery school after accusations that he and his brothers had been molested by the staff.
In an interview in 1987, Susan, then 30, told the Oakland Tribune, a sister paper to the Herald, that her son had endured sodomy and was being forced to eat human excrement by a Satanic cult. Federal and local investigations never resulted in charges being filed.
Gabriel said he does not believe he was ever molested. I dont believe a 5-year-old can come up with the things I said out of nowhere, he said, adding that he remembered his mother asking him leading questions about molestation at the time.
Gabriel said his father only believed the molestation accusations because Susan told him about them.
That is when Susan played an audio tape from a speech on ritual abuse that Felix Polk delivered at a conference. Gabriel listened as his fathers voice crackled out of a laptop computer talking about blood ceremonies and images of his son being raped on a stage by Satanic cultists.
My rage is omnipresent. I wake up with it every morning, Felix Polk said in the recording, talking about his reaction to news of his sons alleged molestation and torture. My fantasy, of course, is to kill them, and Im a moral person and I want to kill them.
Jurors watched expressionless, some taking notes as the tape played.
Gabriel said he did see his father slap Susan once, and he witnessed her slap him once as well. But most of the couples arguments, however wild, contained only shouting with some pushing and bumping of one another, he said. His mother belittled Felix in front of the boys, talking about his sexual prowess and making racist comments about his being Jewish, Gabriel said.
While the arguments were normal for the Polks, about five years before Felixs death Gabriel said he noticed a change in his mother. On a family trip to Disneyland when he was 9 or 10 years old, she broke down, crying hysterically.
Gabriel said she explained her bizarre behavior as fueled by recollections of her being molested as a child by her mother, father and brother. She told Gabriel, in explicit detail, about the sex acts, he said.
She also told me and my brother (her parents) had murdered a police officer in the basement of her house in Los Angeles, he said. Sequeira noted that Susans father, an attorney in Sacramento, and her mother have never been arrested or charged with anything related to these claims.
Gabriel said he started hearing his mother make death threats against his father about a year before Felixs death.
She talked about drugging Felix and drowning him in a pool, tampering with his car or running him over. She said she believed he had $20 million in a hidden bank account, and that she was going to hold Felix at gunpoint in a chair until he transferred it to her.
Gabriel said he disregarded most of it. I was being told this stuff every single day … so over a certain amount of time you get used to it.
But on the day after Susan killed Felix, when his father did not show up to take him to a Giants playoff game as promised, Gabriel could disregard the threats no longer. He asked his mother where his father was.
Arent you glad he’s gone? he said she told him. Gabriel also remembered her saying, I guess I didnt use a shotgun after all.
Grabbing a flashlight he fought his fear of what he might find, and went out to check the pool house where his father had been staying. Thats where he found his fathers bloody body, lying only in his underwear.
Gabriel hid, and called 9-1-1, and told them his father had been shot.
Susan Polk was arrested later that night and has been in jail ever since.
Her cross examination of Gabriel Polk resumes today.