SAN FRANCISCO — A 67-year-old woman shot and killed her former son-in-law and then fatally wounded herself Friday in a crowded Marin County courtroom as the man waited to press child-stealing charges against his ex-wife.
The man, identified as David Michael Lafont, 36, of San Rafael, was hit in the head and died seconds after the 1:45 p.m. attack. His killer, Sylvia Tolson of Stockton, died two hours later at Marin General Hospital of a single self-inflicted head wound.
Authorities said Tolson's daughter, Laina Tolson, 35, was being arraigned at the time of the shooting on charges stemming from a custody dispute with her ex-husband. Sheriff's deputies said they were told that the object of the custody battle, the couple's 9-year-old son, was not in the courtroom when the shots were fired.
The courtroom shooting occurred six weeks after a Los Angeles man and victims-rights advocate, Jack Spiegelman, shot at and wounded the suspected killer of his daughter during a court hearing in San Francisco. Spiegelman is awaiting trial on an attempted murder charge.
Friday's shooting occurred during an arraignment before Municipal Judge Ernest Zunino in San Rafael, about 25 miles north of San Francisco.
"A bailiff on the scene said there was no sign of trouble until they all heard the first shots," said Karen Driscoll, spokeswoman for the Marin County Sheriff's Department. "She then turned the gun on herself so quickly that the bailiff could not get to her (to stop her).
"It all happened very, very quickly."
Driscoll said witnesses in the nearly full courtroom said the assailant got up from her seat and casually walked over near where Lafont was seated, then produced a .38-caliber revolver and fired without warning.
She stood about five feet from her victim when she fired, Driscoll said. The gunfire sent spectators scrambling for safety.
The sound of gunfire echoing down the halls of the Marin County Civic Center reminded many here of another deadly shoot-out in the structure that took the lives of a Superior Court judge and three others on Aug. 7, 1970.
On that day, Jonathan Jackson, 17-year-old brother of prison revolutionary George Jackson, carried four guns into a courtroom just down the hall from the scene of Friday's shooting.
Jonathan Jackson freed three prisoners, and with them took five hostages, including Judge Harold Haley, in a bid to free George Jackson from prison. A shoot-out ensued, and the younger Jackson, the judge and two of the prisoners died.
Friday's shooting took place just two courtrooms away from the trial of former activist lawyer Stephen M. Bingham, who is accused of helping George Jackson launch a 1971 escape bid at San Quentin Prison. Jackson was killed in that attempt, along with three guards and two other inmates.
Bingham's trial was adjourned early Friday as a result of the shooting.