Jessica M. Pasko and J.M. Brown
SANTA CRUZ — The man accused of fatally stabbing Santa Cruz business owner Shannon Collins has a history of violence against his family that frightened his mother so much she told friends not to tell him where she lived.
Court and medical files from San Francisco Superior Court paint a disturbing picture of Charles Anthony Edwards III, the man accused of stabbing to death Collins as she walked to a hair appointment from home on May 7 on Broadway. Edwards, 43, was arrested on suspicion of murder moments after Collins was stabbed. The two did not know each other, police said. He is being held in County Jail in a unit reserved for those with mental health problems, according to his attorney, Anthony Robinson. Edwards pleaded not guilty to all charges Tuesday. He’s due back in court on June 4 to set a date for his preliminary hearing.
Edwards, who was released from state parole in December, is believed to have been in the Santa Cruz area for about a week before Collins was killed. He’d spent four nights at the city’s Homeless Services Center, according to the center’s executive director, Monica Martinez. She said he was cooperative and docile during his stay there.
Edwards has a history of mental illness that includes multiple terms of commitment in prison mental institutions that began in 1991, according to court records. Prison medical staff found him to be schizophrenic and bipolar, according to records. He also has a long history of substance abuse, including use of cocaine, crack, marijuana and alcohol.
His lengthy criminal rap sheet began when he was just 13, when he was arrested for a robbery. A year later he was arrested for grand theft and committed to California Youth Authority, to which he would return in 1986 after being arrested for burglary and receiving stolen property. He was paroled from California Youth Authority in 1989.
A decade after that first offense, Edwards was charged with his first assault. He received probation after pleading guilty, but violated the terms of his probation and was sentenced to two years in state prison.
Between 1993 and 1996, he was in and out of prison for crimes that included battering an 89-year-old man in 1995 and violating parole. According to court records, Atascadero officials said his parole violations mostly involved violent behavior or substance abuse.
Notably, much of Edwards’ violent behavior has targeted his mother, Ethel Flores. His parents split when he was 10 years old, and his father, a retired bus driver, was described as an alcoholic. His mother owned a business and raised Edwards along with his two half-siblings.
In 1996, Edwards pleaded guilty to assaulting his mother in San Francisco and was released on parole 16 months later. He threatened Flores and his two young nieces in two telephone messages in January 1998, threatening to kill all three if he found out where Flores was living. Records show Flores had told authorities she believed her son would act on his threats and she told friends not to tell him where she lived.
“Ms. Flores was so scared that she was afraid to go anywhere,” according to reports from the San Francisco District Attorney’s Office. “Ms. Flores had been beaten and threatened by the defendant in the past and took his threats seriously.”
Flores kept a tape recording of the message and played it for a San Francisco police officer. In a rambling string of expletives and often nonsensical commentary, he threatens to kill her.
Flores also told police her son previously had assaulted her five times and she’d filed police reports.
“He had drawn hammers back at me,” she told police when she reporting the threats. “He has kicked me all in my head. That last time the ambulance had to come.”
She added, “I want him charged, I want him locked up.”
“I have did (sic) nothing but try to help that guy. I’ve given him the best advice. I’ve even made him go to school one time but he just couldn’t finish. And I am tired,” she said at the time. “I’ll be 55 years old in August. And the kids’ lives are in danger. I’m going back to work at the end of the month. I can’t watch them every minute.”
Edwards’ mental health deteriorated and the case was put off while he was treated at state medical facilities for several years, according to records. Medical staff found he had chronic and paranoid schizophrenia and at one point admitted him to San Quentin’s infirmary for increased delusions and paranoia.
In 2002, an Atascadero official sent a letter to the district attorney in San Francisco that said the “defendant is a person who, because of a severe mental disorder which is not in remission or cannot be kept in remission unless the person’s treatment is continued” poses a threat to the public. “Without said treatment, such a person represents a substantial danger of physical harm to others.”
The official reported that Edwards had been physically violent and did not follow his treatment plan, and seemed to believe the Caucasian staff was out to get him. In one incident, Edwards picked up a chair and “repeatedly hit a window until it shattered,” the official wrote. Edwards was placed in full bed restraints and calmed with drugs.
He was released in 2003 and a jury found that he was “not a mentally disordered offender.”
The records in San Francisco drop off after 2003, but Edwards later spent time in jail in Los Angeles and San Diego counties for crimes including resisting an officer using force. The Sentinel has filed public information requests for those records.