Prosecutors plan to file murder charges in a brutal attack that left a Berkeley homeless woman dead.
Mary Katherine King, 45, died of blunt trauma to the head at Highland Hospital Sunday afternoon, said Dan Apperson, Alameda County supervising coroner. She had remained in a coma since being attacked early on Feb. 8 while sleeping alone near the corner of University Avenue and California Street.
Berkeley police arrived on the scene to find King bleeding and unconscious, said police spokesperson Joe Okies. An area search turned up three suspects and police are searching for another suspected attacker who remains at large.
Jarell Johnson, 18, who authorities charge stomped King to death, will face murder charges, a spokesperson for Assistant District Attorney John Adams said. Johnson was arrested blocks from the crime scene along with two others the night King was attacked. The other two have not been charged in the crime. King’s death is Berkeley’s first homicide of 2005. Last year the city had four.
“It was a crime of really unbelievable brutality,” said Richard Lysakowski, King’s brother. “Basically she was sleeping and four men came up to her and two decided to repeatedly kick her to the head.”
Police did not offer possible motives for the attack.
Lysakowski said his sister suffered from bi-polar disorder that took root after she injured her back trying to move a desk while working as a paralegal in Marin County.
The injury, sustained in the mid-1980s, he said, made it impossible for King to sit for long periods of time. As her mental illness grew worse, King, who collected federal disability insurance, bounced around between her native Chicago and the Bay Area, spending much of her time on the streets.
“We tried on a number of occasions to find her housing,” Lysakowski said. Twice, he added, King left housing accommodations, complaining that the living arrangements were substandard.
“It was her choice to live in the street,” he said.
Spencer LaViolette, a Berkeley homeless person, counted King, whom he knew as “Maria” as one of his closest friends. “She was one of the kindest, most generous people you could ever know,” he said. “If you were cold she’d find you a shirt or she’d go into the store and get you a cup of noodles.”
LaViolette said King didn’t feel comfortable in shelters, and typically slept alone along University Avenue, around the area where she was killed.
When he heard about the attack, LaViolette and another friend visited her at the hospital where she was on life support. “I put my hand on her and said, ‘I love you Maria. I hope you get better.’”
Before descending into mental illness, King, who received a master’s degree in history, also worked as a teacher and an editor. By the time LaViolette met her, King claimed numerous professions including nun, linguist, paralegal, teacher and nurse.
“We always took her claims with a grain of salt,” he said. “But I do believe she was a nurse, because she had that caring quality about her.”
King’s family is scheduling a memorial service for her at Saint Joseph the Worker Church in Berkeley. Afterwards, Lysakowski said the family will spread her ashes in Berkeley, Chicago and Scotland, where their family lived for generations.
King, who was a widow, is survived by her father Richard, her brothers Richard and Peter and her sister Anna.
Lawrence Dillon, 19, and a juvenile, who had previously been arrested in the case along with Johnson, were not charged.›