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People v. Wu

Court of Appeal of California, Fourth Appellate District
235 Cal. App. 3d 614, 286 Cal. Rptr. 868 (1991)


Facts

Helen Wu, known as Chau (defendant), was born in China and lived there until the age of thirty-six, when she moved to the United States at the request of Wu, a married man who promised to get a divorce and marry Chau because his wife was unable to give him children. Chau and Wu had a child, Sidney, the following year, but Wu gave no further indication that they would marry, causing Chau, who spoke no English and lived in an apartment with Sidney, essentially in isolation, to become depressed. In an effort to gain a commitment from Wu, Chau informed him of her intent to return to China, and when he did not convince her to stay, Chau followed through, but left Sidney in the United States with Wu to avoid the cultural shame associated with having a child out of wedlock. For the following seven years, Chau repeatedly asked that Wu bring Sidney to visit her, and he finally did when Chau made the visit a condition for giving Wu a loan. They visited, and Chau gave Wu the money, which she had borrowed. Wu then proposed marriage, but Chau thought he did so only for money which he believed was hers, which made her so upset that she tried to jump out a window. The following year, Chau found out that Wu’s mother was terminally ill and when Chau went to see her, the mother told Chau that Wu did not take good care of Sidney, and that Chau should take custody of him upon her death. Chau and Wu got married later that month, but Chau still suspected that Wu only wanted her for money, which was reinforced by Wu’s repeated requests for money and insulting comments to Chau.  Chau planned to go back to China, but wanted to spend several more days with Sidney. One evening while Chau and Sidney were playing, Sidney confided in her that Wu had a girlfriend whose house they lived in and whom Wu loved more than Sidney; that Wu said insulting things about Chau to Sidney; and that Wu beat Sidney. Chau, recalling the advice of Sidney’s now deceased grandmother, began to experience heart palpitations and shortness of breath. Chau told Sidney she wanted to die, and asked if he would go with her. Sidney cried and held onto Chau’s neck. Chau then cut a cord off a window blind and used it to strangle Sidney. Chau then attempted unsuccessfully to commit suicide. Chau was charged with second degree murder. At her trial, Chau testified that she did not remember strangling Sidney. Chau also offered testimony by experts in cross-cultural psychology that she killed Sidney in a heat of passion likely brought on by her cultural background. The trial court refused Chau’s request to instruct the jury on the defense of unconsciousness (not the focus of this case) and on the possible effects of Chau’s cultural background on her mental state. Chau was convicted and appealed to the Court of Appeal of California for the Fourth Appellate District.

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Holding and Reasoning (Timlin, J.)

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