Trial Under Way for Suspect in Acid Attack : Defense Attorney Says That the 'Major Thrust Will Be Sanity Phase'

Times Staff Writer

The defense attorney for Mark Edward Hand is not ready to say her client threw acetic acid at 4-year-old Rachel Ogawa and her mother at an Orange County park last January. But she told jurors as the trial opened Wednesday: "It is no secret that the major thrust will be the sanity phase."

Hand, 26, an ex-convict from Whittier, faces a possible 14-year sentence if convicted.

The attack occurred Jan. 18 as Gary Ogawa, his wife Elaine, Rachel and their other daughter, 3, were leaving Los Coyotes Regional Park in Buena Park after a picnic. The family is from La Habra.

The acid was thrown into Rachel's face just as she and her mother were coming out of a restroom. It spilled onto her abdomen and leg and splashed onto her mother, causing a minor stomach injury.

The girl was treated for second-degree burns at St. Jude Hospital in Fullerton, where she remained for a week. She is still recovering and remains scarred. Prosecutors say she also has a serious esophagus constriction as a result of the incident.

Defense attorney Diana Polos told jurors that the prosecution will fail to prove that Hand had any motive to hurt the Ogawas, or that he realized what harm the mother and daughter might suffer from the acid.

She also reminded Superior Court Judge John J. Ryan to point out, in reading the charges to the jurors, that "intent" to harm must be proved. Hand is charged with two counts of throwing a corrosive acid at someone and two counts of assault with intent to harm.

At the time of the attack, Hand was on parole and scheduled to undergo psychiatric evaluation.

Since his arrest two days after the incident, he has been interviewed at the Orange County Jail by psychiatrists.

Outside the courtroom Wednesday, Polos said all the doctors who saw Hand came to the same conclusions.

"I'm not ready to say what those conclusions are, but I wouldn't be going into a sanity phase--if the case gets that far--if I didn't think I would win," Polos said.

Deputy Dist. Atty. Jan C. Sturla, who is prosecuting Hand, also would not talk about the doctors' conclusions, but Sturla emphasized that the district attorney's office believes that Hand was sane at the time of the attack.

Sturla's first witness Wednesday was Elaine Ogawa, who talked about the extensive whirlpool treatments and physical exams her injured daughter has endured.

She also described how her husband, a USC assistant professor of pharmacology, frantically dunked Rachel into the lagoon at the park in an attempt to wash off the acid, which was causing the girl excruciating pain.

While Elaine Ogawa could not make more than a partial identification of Hand, two other prosecution witnesses place him at the scene that day. Also, evidence found in Hand's trunk implicated him in the attack.

Buena Park police said at the time of Hand's arrest that an anonymous tip had led the police to investigate Hand. But Sturla revealed in court that the call had come from Hand's mother.

Newspapers reported that Hand's parents said their son, before the incident, said he had an urge to throw acid at someone.

Hand was sent to prison in Texas in 1978 following a burglarly conviction. He was released last August and lived with his parents at their Whittier home.

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World