A man accused of stabbing a 65-year-old woman to death in an apparent random attack at a City Heights Park pleaded not guilty Tuesday to murder.
Siliveinusi Patafalai Hamala, 23, is charged in the June 19 slaying of Chi Cao, who was stabbed multiple times at Central Avenue Mini Park.
Hamala was arrested later that day at his home, located a short distance away from the park.
According to police, Cao was exercising at the park when she was attacked “apparently without warning” and with no indication “that she was targeted for a specific reason.”
A neighbor found Cao and called police just before 8:30 a.m., according to a GoFundMe page created to assist the victim’s family.
Cao died at the scene. Hamala was arrested about nine hours later.
According to the GoFundMe page, Cao had been a City Heights resident for many years and had recently become a U.S. citizen. In addition to exercising on the day she was killed, the page states that she was collecting recyclable cans, which she did regularly as a means of additional income and to financially assist one of her daughters who was living in Vietnam.
After Hamala’s arraignment, Cao’s grandson, Zesson Tran, said the day of Cao’s death was “very shattering … as if the world just collapsed. Our family’s going through hard times, but we’re staying strong.”
Hamala, who has been in custody without bail since the date of his arrest, did not enter a plea at his first court appearance in June because his defense attorney declared a doubt as to his competency to stand trial.
Defendants are considered mentally incompetent to stand trial if they are unable to understand the nature of the criminal proceedings or assist their attorney in their defense. Once a doubt is declared, those defendants are typically evaluated by doctors to determine whether they are fit to stand trial.
Deputy District Attorney Amelia Diedrich said she could not comment on the specifics of Hamala’s mental health proceedings, but said the prosecution and defense stipulated last week that he was competent. She also said Hamala was never declared incompetent by a judge at any point.
Hamala faces up to 26 years to life if convicted of murder and a weapon allegation. He’s due back in court in January.
–City News Service