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Man Withdraws Insanity Plea After Conviction for Hurling Acid at Girl

July 24, 1986|JOHN SPANO | Times Staff Writer

Mark Edward Hand, found guilty Wednesday of throwing acid in the face of a 4-year-old girl, shocked the prosecutor and his own lawyer by then withdrawing his plea of not guilty by reason of insanity.

Hand, 26, of Whittier will be sentenced Aug. 22 and faces a maximum of 15 years in prison. Without warning, Hand threw acetic acid on Rachel Ogawa and her mother, Elaine, as they were leaving Los Coyotes Regional Park in Buena Park Jan. 18 after a picnic.

Two court-appointed psychiatrists who examined Hand concluded that he was insane at the time of the attack. A trial to determine that would have followed the guilty verdict.

"He is the one who chose what to do in the first place," said Diana M. Polos, Hand's lawyer. "He has the right to change his mind."

Elaine Ogawa called the verdict fair.

"The guilty verdict didn't surprise me," she said. "I sort of expected it. It's a relief; I'm glad that our part is over with." But she said she was surprised that Hand withdrew the insanity plea.

Rachel is doing well and is in good spirits, her mother said, despite a series of medical procedures to help her swallow after burns caused scarring.

"I think because she was so young, it didn't really faze her that much," Ogawa said. "From the beginning, she just accepted it as a matter of fact."

Hand was arrested by Buena Park police after they received a tip from his mother. He was found guilty of assaulting Rachel with a caustic acid and assaulting her mother with intent to do great bodily harm.

Prosecutors moved to enhance Hand's sentence by presenting evidence of the defendant's 1978 felony conviction for burglary in Texas, plus the fact that when he attacked the Ogawas he was free on bail while awaiting trial for felony commercial burglary in Los Angeles.

Hand did not contest either allegation. Under California law, both circumstances can add seven years to his prison sentence.

Deputy Dist. Atty. Jan C. Sturla said he was surprised by Hand's switch but pleased with the result.

"The jury convicted Hand of everything they could convict him of," Sturla said. Jurors deliberated about five hours.

Sturla said he was prepared to contest any claim that Hand was insane and will urge Orange County Superior Court Judge John J. Ryan to impose the maximum sentence.

"I'm not saying he wasn't suffering from a mental disease. I'm saying he was not legally insane," Sturla said.

Hand is a schizophrenic, according Drs. Ernest Klatte and Kashal Sharma, who examined him. Polos added that her client has been treated with anti-depressant and anti-psychotic drugs.

"He has expressed remorse over the attack," Polos said. "He's sad about it."

If Hand had persuaded a jury that he was insane, he would have been sent to a state psychiatric hospital, from which he technically was eligible for release within six months. However, hospital officials also could have kept him for life.

"He is going into a situation which will keep him locked up for the least amount of time," Polos said.

Elaine Ogawa said she is happy the ordeal is over.

"I was never sure to begin with it was him," she said Wednesday. "I didn't firmly believe he was the one to begin with. But the more I learned about the evidence in the case, the more certain I became."

Hand's parents attended each day of the trial. Elaine Ogawa said she never met or spoke to them.

"You can appreciate what they were going through," Ogawa said. "He was their son."

"If they didn't turn him in, he would still be out on the streets."

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