Tacoma store worker used sword to kill homeless woman after shoplifting, charges allege

Peter Talbot / The Newsstand

A downtown Tacoma convenience store worker was charged with murder on Wednesday for allegedly stabbing a homeless woman to death after stealing sunglasses and condoms, charging documents show.

Abdelhakim Choubabi, 52, was charged in Pierce County Superior Court with first-degree murder.

He pleaded not guilty during his arraignment on Wednesday afternoon. Superior Court Commissioner Craig Adams ordered him held without bond for an assessment to determine his fitness to stand trial.

Choubabi is accused of using a “samurai-like” sword to stab and kill Odessa Easterlin, 37, on Saturday outside the Candy Market convenience store at the corner of South 9th and Market streets. Easterlin died of multiple stab wounds to the chest, according to the Pierce County Medical Examiner. She was from Lakewood.

The defendant was previously convicted of attempted first-degree assault in 2008 for allegedly stabbing his pregnant wife and a friend in Tacoma five years earlier, court records show.

The charges were initially dismissed after he was found unfit to stand trial three times. Records show charges were brought against Choubabi again in 2007 after Western State Hospital said his condition improved during a civil engagement.

According to the charging documents for Easterlin’s murder, the victim was known to Choubabi, nearby residents and patrollers because she frequently slept outside the downtown store.

Choubabi was arrested on Saturday after returning to the scene of the crime to speak to police, according to the probable cause document. Detectives then interviewed the accused through an interpreter because he said he spoke Arabic.

In the interview, the man allegedly told detectives he had retrieved the sword from the store intending to kill Easterlin after stealing items and hitting him in the head.

“The defendant said he had had enough of [Easterlin] because she was constantly stealing items, she ‘smelled badly’ and urinated outside the store,” the probable cause determination statement reads.

According to the document, Choubabi had been contacted about mental health issues as recently as April 20. He called 911 from the Candy Market saying he wanted to hurt someone or himself. The defendant is said to have said that he had been discharged from a hospital the day before. When officers responded, he approached them with a knife, but eventually dropped it and cooperated with them. It is unclear if he received mental health services after the call.

The charging documents gave this account:

Tacoma Police Department officers were dispatched around 7:48 p.m. to 767 Market St. for a report that a woman had been struck with a baton. The Tacoma Fire Department also responded and informed police that the woman had been stabbed and died.

The victim was found on the sidewalk about 20 feet from the Candy Market entrance. According to the probable cause determination statement, patrol officers knew the woman because she was homeless and had stayed in that downtown area.

Witnesses told police the man who stabbed her left the scene in a sedan driven by another person. While officers were on the scene, a market worker, identified as Choubabi, walked back and surrendered.

A language barrier made it difficult for the police to communicate with Choubabi. According to the probable cause document, the man said “something about acting in self-defense.” The police began to inform him of his rights in Miranda, but Choubabi said he did not understand and indicated that he spoke Arabic. However, there were no Arabic-speaking officers in all of Pierce County who could help at the time.

The person who chased Choubabi from the scene spoke with detectives. According to the probable cause document, he is the son of the Candy Market owner. He said he stopped at the store, and the accused, whom he called “Hakeem”, came in and said, “Come on, come on, come on!”

The two went to a restaurant, where Choubabi allegedly said a woman had tried to kill him, so he stabbed her, according to the probable cause document. The son told the police that he advised Choubabi to return to the store and talk to the police. He said he brought it back.

Detectives then interviewed Choubabi at police headquarters using the “InSight Interpreters” app which allowed police to have an interpreter on loudspeaker.

Choubabi told detectives the incident began when the victim stole sunglasses and condoms from the store, according to the probable cause document. He said he followed her out of the store to retrieve the items, and the woman hit him on the back of the head.

The accused said he then went back inside to retrieve a sword. According to the probable cause document, Choubabi said he approached the woman, who was sitting on the ground, then swung the sword at her face before stabbing her in the stomach.

Choubabi said he put the sword back inside the store, then came out and saw the store owner’s son pull up in a car, so he entered.