Trial begins for woman accused of severing estranged husband's penis

Catherine Kieu faces life term if convicted

SANTA ANA, Calif. - A Garden Grove man tearfully testified Wednesday that his estranged wife "murdered him" the night she allegedly laced his food with a sleep drug and tied him to his bed before castrating him and tossing his penis into a garbage disposal.

Catherine Kieu, 50, is accused of slashing off her the victim's penis with a kitchen knife on July 11, 2011.

"She murdered me that night," he testified Wednesday afternoon.

According to the prosecution, Kieu was furious that her estranged husband was dating a former girlfriend, so she drugged him by lacing his meal with Ambien, and when he passed out, tied him up, castrated him and tossed his penis into the garbage disposal.

Catherine Kieu's attorney countered that his client suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder and did not have the required mental state to be convicted of the charges she faces -- aggravated mayhem and torture, with a sentence-enhancing knife-use allegation.

If convicted, she faces up to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

The victim testified that on the night he was attacked, Kieu served him a tofu and chicken dish while she ate a salad.

As he watched TV and sat in his office, he noticed the dish had a "metallic salty taste" but kept eating it. About a month before, he said, she served him a similar dish that tasted so salty and bitter that he assumed it was spoiled and threw it out.

The witness, who is referred to in court only as Glen, recalled that he was soon overcome with grogginess even though it was still light out. He said it was an unusual for him to ever go to bed before 10 p.m. or 11 p.m.

His next memory was awaking in a mostly darkened room with his estranged wife at the foot of the bed. He couldn't move because his arms and feet were tied to each corner of the bed, he said.

"I was very, very groggy," he testified, adding that he felt as if he were in a dream "like I wasn't there."

Kieu "pulled on my shorts. I didn't really understand what she was doing," he testified. "I looked down and I saw something metallic, silver, shiny. I still didn't know what was going on. I felt her grab hold of my penis. I was very surprised. All of a sudden I felt a very sharp pain and she had cut my penis off and then threw it on the carpet next to the bed."

Initially, he felt "excruciating" pain. "But I must've gone into shock because the pain subsided," he testified.

Kieu then picked up his penis and left the room, he said.

"The next thing I heard was the garbage disposal," he testified. "I don't know how long that went on -- a long time."

The victim choked up and cried as he explained how he tried to undo the rope around his wrists with his teeth. Later, he heard the garbage disposal turned on again, he testified.

When Kieu asked him if he wanted her to "take care of it" or call police, the victim asked her to dial 911, he testified. She held up the phone to his ear so he could speak with a dispatcher, he added.

Kieu put a towel over her estranged husband's groin, which was "bleeding profusely," and tried to stop the blood flow, he testified.

"She didn't want me dead," he said.

The victim said he spent a few days in a hospital and underwent surgery, but "not reconstructive surgery." The operation was "to make it usable as far as going to the bathroom," he testified.

"Of course, I will never have a sex life again," he said. "The healing process may never be completely finished. My mental state is improving, but it may never be what it was before."

Deputy District Attorney John Christl, in his opening statement, characterized Kieu as a "very controlling, manipulative woman ... who knew exactly what she was doing."

The "well-educated" Kieu, who had a degree in mathematics and computer science from Cal State Long Beach, was also vain and reluctant to start over again, the prosecutor said.

"She was going to have to get a job, pay rent, and she's angry," he said, adding that the victim "never saw it coming."

On his Dec. 27, 2009, wedding day, the victim penned a letter to guests that he had changed his mind, but ended up going through with the nuptials, Christl said.

About 11 months later, he told Kieu that they had "made a mistake" and he wanted a divorce, Christl said. However, the victim, "concerned the defendant did not have a place to live," allowed her to continue residing with him in his condominium, Christl said.

At first, the victim slept on the couch, but it was too uncomfortable so the estranged couple agreed to sleep in the same bed, separated by pillows, and they stopped having sex, Christl said.

Meanwhile, Kieu's estranged husband was spending time with a former girlfriend, which angered the defendant so much that she bought several voice-activated recorders and planted them throughout the condo and his car to catch the two having sex, which never happened, according to Christl.

The voice-activated recorders, however, did give authorities an accounting of what happened between the two before and during the castration, Christl said.

Less than a week before the July 11, 2011, attack, Kieu got a prescription for the insomnia drug Zolpidem, known by its brand name Ambien, which she put in his dinner, Christl alleged.

After the castration, Kieu told the victim "You deserve it" three times, Christl said.

Before police arrived, Kieu gathered up the recorders and deleted audio files from her laptop computer while also peeling off the label on the Ambien prescription bottle, the prosecutor alleged.

Kieu's attorney, Frank Bittar of the Orange County Public Defender's Office, called it "a tragic case for all parties ... It's exceedingly tragic for Catherine Kieu."

The defendant suffered a "lifetime of trauma," beginning with her childhood in Vietnam during the civil war, Bittar told the jury.

A year after her mother died, a "very troubled" older brother began raping her continuously for months when she was 6 years old, according to Bittar.

"And war was everywhere. Shelling, machine gunfire, rockets, tanks," he said. "That was another layer of trauma she endured."

An expert is expected to testify that Kieu could not tell anyone about the sex abuse because of the patriarchal culture in her country at the time, Bittar said.

When she was a teen, she fled her homeland with an aunt and other relatives, Bittar said. While adrift at sea, a Pakistani merchant ship picked up Kieu and her relatives and took them to a camp with "deplorable conditions" in Indonesia, Bittar said.

She eventually made her way to California, where she went to high school in Westminster and later got married in 1984, Bittar said.

Kieu and her previous husband had a grocery store that failed, which contributed to the demise of their marriage in 1997, Bittar said. Their divorce was "amicable," Bittar said.

"She's not jealous and she's not wicked and she's not a black widow," he said.

Their son told investigators that Kieu would suffer periodic bouts of crying, a symptom of post-traumatic stress disorder, Bittar said.

Kieu met the victim in 2001 at a gym, but she "rebuffed him" because he "seemed too eager" and she wasn't ready for another relationship, the defense attorney said.  In 2008, their paths crossed again and they started dating, according to Bittar, who said the victim was "hyper-sexual" and was taking drugs like Viagra.

The victim also desired sexual positions that were "painful" to the defendant, who had two herniated discs, her attorney said.

The way he wanted her to perform oral sex would "choke" her and make it difficult to breathe, "but for his pleasure she would acquiesce," Bittar said.

Kieu's "mental health state was deteriorating in a severe way" after her husband asked for a divorce and began "carrying on" with a 30-year-old woman, Bittar said.

"You're going to learn that in Catherine's mind, she severed his penis because she wanted him to stop hurting her with his penis," Bittar said. "At the end of this case I am going to ask you, each and every one of you, to find (Kieu) not guilty because she did not have the required mental state by law."

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