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East Bay Times
By Mike Martinez, STAFF WRITER
POSTED: 02/17/2005 03:23:49 AM PST
Michael Austin stands accused of killing spouse with steak knife
TRACY – A Tracy man charged with killing his wife was cleared to have his case move forward Wednesday morning after a medical report detailing a psychiatric evaluation was reviewed by the court.
San Joaquin County Superior Court Commissioner Barbara A. Kronlund set a preliminary hearing date of March 7 for Michael Austin, arrested on suspicion of stabbing his wife, Janorah Austin, in the neck with a steak knife on Dec. 30, 2004.
Austin, 50, is charged with one count of murder and one count of use of a deadly weapon. Investigators believe a mood-altering drug may have played a factor in the murder of his wife, whose body was discovered by their 14-year-old daughter.
A report from the San Joaquin County Coroners Office showed Janorah Austin was stabbed three times, twice in the neck and once in the stomach.
Appearing in court with his hands bound and wearing an orange jumpsuit, the clean-shaven and well-groomed Austin spoke softly to the commissioner, acknowledging her questions with head nods.
The family had strong ties with the Valley Community Baptist Church, and the church pastor, Dennis Dearmin, administrator for Janorah Austins estate, said the two girls are doing well. They currently are staying with a family that hopes to take guardianship of the children bythe end of this week, Dearmin said. They also see their family, especially their grandmother, often.
“They’re in church every week, involved in their school and school activities, and they’re involved in some community activities,” Dearmin said. “Certainly, there are always things you still have to deal with and work through but they aren’t sitting in the corner in such grief they can’t function.”
Zoette Dobbert, the San Joaquin deputy district attorney prosecuting the case, said Austin’s children won’t testify at his preliminary hearing – a presentation of evidence to a judge who determines if there is enough to warrant a criminal trial – but expects them to when his case goes to trial.
In search warrant documents and an affidavit filed on Jan. 5, investigators found a butcher block on a kitchen counter with one steak knife missing during the initial search of the house.
The oldest daughter said when she returned home around 2 p.m. on Dec. 30, her father, told her he may have done “something bad” because of his medication, the affidavit said.
The 14-year-old went into a bedroom where she found her mother laying on the floor, face down, with her head covered with a blanket.
After locking herself and her sister in a bathroom and calling police, the girl told the dispatcher her father had been taking Prozac and her parents had been fighting because her father had lost his job.
When officers arrived, they forced entry into the house where they found Austin and placed him in custody. The children were found locked in the bathroom, the affidavit said.
During a search of the house, investigators found the victim with duct tape on her neck and a frothy substance around her mouth. She also had a cut on her left hand, court documents said.
Her lower body had been placed inside a plastic garbage bag and her upper body had been covered in blankets. Several bloody zip ties were found as well as several blood spots on the floor in garage.
Among the items removed from the house was a prescribed bottle of Prozac with 23 pills remaining, property documents show.
Donations for the children are being accepted at the Bank of Stockton and at Valley Community Baptist Church in Tracy.