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Kensington Killing Done with Steak Knife to the Heart, Suspect Charged

Diane Sydenham, the 56-year-old Albany resident accused of killing Kensington psychologist James Durkin, 81, appeared for arraignment on a murder charge Thursday. The prosecutor said a steak knife was plunged into Durkin's heart.

The Albany woman accused of fatally stabbing , 81, did not enter a plea today, Thursday, at her arraignment hearing in Contra Costa County Superior Court.

, 56, has been charged with murdering Durkin, whose body was found Monday in his in-law unit in a home in the 600 block of Coventry Road in Kensington, an affluent enclave of 5,000 people where homicides are rare.

New details about the crime emerged before the afternoon hearing at the Richmond courthouse when Harold Jewett, a senior deputy district attorney, told reporters that the knife found plunged into Durkin's chest was a "serrated steak knife." He said the blade was about six inches long and had pierced the victim's heart.

Authorities had previously reported that the victim was a found with a knife in his chest but had not indicated what type of knife or the nature of the wound.

Jewett said the body was found by a resident of a different unit in the same home. That person alerted police.

In the brief hearing before Superior Court Judge Christopher Bowen, Sydenham was escorted by deputies and remained behind bars in a courtroom cell. She did not address the court, but conferred privately with her attorney, Robert Beles, who told the court that she was not entering a plea at this time.

Appearing in a two-tone, short-sleeved sweatshirt, the 5-foot, 10-inch tall Sydenham appeared alert and attentive to the proceedings. Her face initially wore a calm expression, but she became agitated when members of the press began taking photos.

Another hearing was set for Aug. 30, and Sydenham was led away by deputies back into custody, where she is being held on $1 million bail.

Outside of the courtroom, Jewett declined to comment on reports that the suspect and victim had been romantically involved, saying only that they were "friends."

A neighbor of Sydenham's in the 700 block of Kains Avenue in Albany, Jennifer Renton, said, "I know she was dating someone who was elderly."

Speaking with reporters outside the courtroom Thursday, her attorney, Beles, told reporters, "She had an emotionally troubled background."

He also said the connection between his client and the victim "was not a patient-doctor relationship." Durkin was a retired psychologist. Beles did not elaborate further on their relationship.

She is unmarried and does not have children, Beles said.

According to Renton, Sydenham has been unemployed for some time.

Sydenham was often seen walking up and down the street in front of her duplex apartment on Kains, said Monica Pena, a receptionist at a dentist office on the block.

"I would always see her walking back and forth," Pena said. Sydenham seemed odd but not prone to hurt anyone, Pena said.

"She never really bothered anyone," Pena said. "I just found her different. I would never think she would be capable of hurting anyone."

Beles said he's heard positive reports about Sydenham from neighbors and acquaintances of hers. "I've had some supportive people saying this is a great person," he said. "I haven't gotten anything negative."

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Amanda Azevedo August 20, 2012 at 06:36 PM
Thank you, kainsresident. I feel the same.
PinkPanther August 21, 2012 at 09:12 PM
What bothers me most is that she just went back to her regular life. Like stabbing the guy never happened. That's sick
Karin Lamb August 22, 2012 at 01:06 AM
I haven't seen presumption of guilt in most of these comments, only people's personal experiences with her. I personally ran into her often over the years around the neighborhood and had similar experiences. Her moods seemed erratic, she was not generally friendly, and sometimes downright unfriendly. She made me nervous. It *is* a pity no one reached out to her, but I believe even had someone wanted to the gesture would have been rejected by her, and barring acceptance of help on a personal level, there is little anyone can do.
Amanda Azevedo August 22, 2012 at 05:09 AM
I think she really IS sick. Obviously well adjusted, mentally sound human beings generally don't do this. I really do believe Diane is sick. I can't help but wonder if the new medication she had been on factored in to her behavior? There's definitely no winner here, in my opinion. I'm just really shocked still-- I never ever saw this dark side of Diane. I never ever imagined she would be dangerous.
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