Donna Lindner went to bed the night before Valentine's Day watching Conan O'Brien's show in her mobile home on Portola Drive in Live Oak. It was 11 p.m., she figured.
The next thing she remembers was something hitting her in the head. She thought one of her ex-husband's surfboards had fallen from the ceiling.
But when she focused, she saw the man she still lived with and loved hitting her with a butcher knife and stabbing her.
Assistant district attorney Erika Ziegenhorn filed charges of attempted murder and mayhem, which carry a penalty of life in prison for the brutal attack, which occurred at 7 a.m. February 14. Defense attorney Allen Cave focused on evidence that showed that Lindner, 45, was having severe medical problems from diabetes that brought on what appeared to be a temporary psychotic disorder.
Oddly, the victims — Donna, 36 and Kristen, 13 — agreed with the defense attorney. Donna asked Santa Cruz County Judge Ariadne Symons not to send the man she loved to jail.
Even the judge expressed surprise at the twists in the case, calling it a "conundrum."
However, Symons said there was enough evidence to try Lindner for attempted murder. But she said the defense attorney could bring in psychologists who may present evidence that would sway a jury.
Attorneys on both sides of the case said they had never seen anything like this. While cases of partners wanting not to prosecute mates over domestic violence are common, this one was unusual in having no history of abuse.
Lindner sat quietly in his orange prison jumpsuit during the hearing. Thin, with short hair, glasses and clear skin, he looked nothing like his booking photo. He only spoke when the judge told him he was going to be allowed to talk to his wife by phone, and he wanted to make sure the number hadn't changed.
Still, it was chilling when Donna Lindner, a trained nurse, who continued to live with her former husband even though they were divorced, described his horrific actions on Valentine's morning under questioning from Ziegenhorn.
Her husband stabbed Donna in the throat and hit her so hard, the back of her head cracked, she said. For most of the attack he didn't say anything and he didn't look at her.
"I said, 'Chris, it's Donna. It's Donna. It's Donna,'" she said. "I'm still in disbelief that this man is doing this. This is not behavior for Christopher."
Then it got worse. Their daughter Kristen woke up and came into the bedroom screaming and her father lunged at her and stabbed her in her open mouth. Donna yelled at her to grab her backpack and get out of the house. The backpack had her cell phone in it, but Lindner attacked his daughter again, trying to get the backpack.
Finally Donna tackled him and held him down. She weighed 227 pounds and he weighed only 150. She managed to throw the knife out the door and hold him down long enough for their daughter to get into a public restroom at the mobile home park at 2505 Portola Drive and call police.
Lindner, said Donna, then got free and looked for another knife as she heard approaching sirens.
"He said, 'You have to die, you evil bitch. I'm going to kill you.' and I feel this knife in the back of my throat."
The next thing she knew, he was on top of her and she saw a red dot on his chest, the laser targeting from a gun.
"I'm telling him 'Christopher, it's over.'"
Deputy Arthur Patrick Dimick told Lindner to put up his hands, but he still didn't respond and the deputy used a taser to subdue him.
As violent as the incident was, Donna told Judge Symons that it was isolated and she and her daughter testified that Lindner had never raised a hand and barely raised his voice in their years together.
"I honestly cannot say one bad thing about him," she said with tears in her eyes under questioning by Cave. "I love him. He is the love of my life. He is my best friend."
She told the court that a doctor had changed Lindner's diabetes medicine a week before the attack, triggering strange behavior that included panic attacks, and heavy breathing. He was sent home from a jobs class he was taking because he started removing his clothes during the class.
A sheriff's deputy visited the house after, called by someone in the class to do a welfare check on him. They told the deputy Lindner was suffering effects of low blood sugar, which Donna blamed on the change in medicine.
She said she took him to Dominican Hospital three times the week before the attack but they did nothing for him.
"This was not Christopher," she said of the man who was usually quiet and reserved. "Looking in his eyes, the lights were on and nobody is home."
Despite more than an hour of testimony about the vicious attack, she said her husband was "a very mellow-mannered, quiet, caring, loving person who wouldn't hurt anyone."
She made a plea to the court. "Christopher clearly needs help. I tried all week to get him help. My daughter and I want him to get proper help which he clearly won't get in jail."
When she ordered Lindner to stand trial, Symons told her there were mental health specialists and doctors in jail. The judge also dropped a restraining order preventing him from communicating with his family.
"This is certainly a conundrum," said Symons. "One wonders what happened to Mr. Lindner. Certainly two people almost died. He needs help. There are issues that need to be explored."
There was one hopeful note for the family.
Prosecutor Ziegenhorn said that the charges, which now require life in prison, could be changed when Lindner returns to court for formal arraignment on May 23.
"Our main concern was the safety of the family," she said of the original charges.