Mark Allen Olds testified Monday that he intended only to burglarize City Councilwoman Ruth Galanter's Venice home but panicked and slashed her throat when she awoke and began screaming.
Olds, 27, his black hair and mustache neatly trimmed, delivered his brief answers to most questions in a soft monotone.
He said that after the attack he "was ashamed" and attempted suicide before deciding to turn himself in.
Asked by his attorney, James M. Epstein, if he meant to kill Galanter during the attack, he replied: "I pray to God I didn't. But I just don't know."
In presenting the defense's case in Los Angeles Superior Court, Epstein faced the tricky problem of trying to show that Olds never meant to harm Galanter without also implying that Galanter brought her serious injuries on herself.
The prosecutor, Deputy Dist. Atty. Dale Davidson, contends that Olds entered the house specifically to murder Galanter.
Olds faces life in prison if the jury determines that the May 6 attack on Galanter was premeditated and deliberate. Otherwise, the maximum sentence is 12 years in prison.
Galanter, 46, was running against City Council President Pat Russell at the time of the attack and subsequently defeated Russell in the June 2 election.
Last week, Galanter testified that she was awakened and stabbed in the neck by an intruder. After the attack, she said, she set off the burglar alarm in her home and began screaming, despite serious damage to her vocal cords.
Two of Galanter's neighbors, who rushed to her aid after the attack, testified Monday that they were awakened by her screams. But the burglar alarm sounded minutes after the screams began, not before, according to Teresa and Samuel Munoz. Their testimony appeared to lend support to Olds' claim that he did not plan the stabbing.
Olds said he had been at a barbecue, where he smoked PCP-laced cigarettes most of the day before the attack, and injected himself with a dose of cocaine when he returned home hours before breaking into Galanter's house. Olds lived across the street from Galanter for 2 1/2 years, but he said he never met her and was unaware that she lived alone.
He said he still was feeling the effects of the drugs when he left his house in the early morning hours of May 6, looking for a place to burglarize because he was short of money.
After climbing the back fence into Galanter's yard, Olds said he used a four-inch knife to cut the screen and climbed through a window into the laundry area. When his eyes adjusted to the darkened house, Olds said, he walked into the living room looking for something of value.
Galanter, in an adjoining bedroom, began screaming, and Olds said he "panicked" and ran toward the source of the screams.
"I just seen a shadow, a figure," Olds testified. "I just wanted to stop the scream. I grabbed the top part of the shadow" and stabbed twice. "It hit me all at once, what was I doing. I panicked again. I ran."
After escaping through the same window by which he entered, Olds said he ran to the beach and threw the knife into the ocean. Then, he said, he went to a metal company where he once worked and hid out for three days without food or water.
While in hiding, he said he heard radio news reports that his fingerprints had been identified and that police were looking for him.
Describing himself as "ashamed, scared," Olds said, "I tried to take my life" with a razor knife used to open boxes.
When the suicide attempt failed, Olds said he called a priest and turned himself in.