Berkeley police and fire responded to a stabbing followed by a fire on Harmon Street on Jan. 29, 2013. Photo: Tracey Taylor
Berkeley police and fire responded to a stabbing followed by a fire on Harmon Street on Jan. 29, 2013. Photo: Tracey Taylor

A 52-year-old Berkeley man arrested in 2013 after police said he stabbed two people and set a South Berkeley house on fire, killing a puppy, was sentenced Friday to 15 years in prison.

Victor Lamb entered a no contest plea in October in connection with attempted murder, great bodily injury and using a dangerous weapon during the commission of a felony after the Jan. 29, 2013, stabbing of two people, and subsequent arson, which killed a Chihuahua puppy named Midnight. Two police officers had to drag Lamb onto a ladder out of the second story of a burning home in the 1400 block of Harmon Street after he barricaded himself inside, told officers he had doused himself in lighter fluid, and said he wanted to die, according to court papers.

Initially, the Alameda County district attorney’s office charged Lamb with a much longer list of violations — including two counts of attempted murder, assault with a deadly weapon, arson of an inhabited dwelling, animal cruelty, robbery and elder abuse, because one of his victims was more than 70 years old. The prosecution dropped many of those charges after Lamb’s no contest plea, negating the need for trial.

According to a transcript from Lamb’s preliminary hearing, in late September 2013, two witnesses testified about being stabbed by Lamb, who had a long history of mental health issues and sometimes took medication as a result. They said he had no recent history of serious violence, but would often become moody, verbally abusive and threatening, and display bizarre behavior.

Lamb had been living on and off for five years in the Harmon Street home of a woman in her early 70s who he sometimes dated. She was not named in court proceedings because the case involved domestic violence. At the time of the fire, the woman’s grandson, Jayson Simpkins, was also living at the home, and was also attacked by Lamb, according to court papers.

The woman — identified as Jane Doe and, at times, her nickname of “Sugar Pie” — said Lamb looked on the night of the attack “like a demon had come through.” She also told Judge Gregory Syren that Lamb was a bully who had daily “violent reactions” that were mostly emotional rather than physical. She said he once, however, threatened to beat her up, and once slammed a door on her. After the door incident, she got a restraining order against Lamb, but ultimately let him return to her home to live because she said he had nowhere else to go, and she felt sorry for him.

The house at 1409 Harmon St. in Berkeley, which was the scene of a double stabbing and arson, as well as the death of a Chihuahua puppy. Photo: Tracey Taylor
The house at 1409 Harmon St. in Berkeley, which was the scene of a double stabbing and arson, as well as the death of a Chihuahua puppy. Photo: Tracey Taylor

“At one point Victor had told me that he would burn this mother f-cker down,” she told the court, of her home, but she said she hadn’t believed he would act on the threat “because I believed him to be a caring person…. In my mind he would never do that to me.”

During the Jan. 29 attack, Simpkins, then 20, was stabbed three times in the arm and leg, and bitten on the face. His grandmother was stabbed four times in the chest, and there was some concern initially that her lung had been punctured, she testified.

The woman said she and Lamb had been arguing for several days prior to the fire, but that he became enraged when he came home the night of Jan. 28, 2013, and found that a friend of Simpkins had blocked the driveway with his vehicle. Lamb was “ranting and raving” about the parking issue. Simpkins testified that Lamb began “yelling, cursing, unscrewing the light fixtures in the house and letting them drop on the ground.” He was also throwing nails into the street, Simpkins told the court.

Lamb ultimately calmed down, but Simpkins said, in the following hours, he made a private phone call to police to report Lamb’s behavior, and that he and his grandmother decided Lamb was no longer welcome in the house. Early on the morning of Jan. 29, 2013, the woman gave Lamb a ride to a friend’s house, and he snatched her purse from her when she dropped him off. With the help of a friend, she was able to persuade Lamb to return the purse, but later realized $100 had been taken from it. She called Lamb and told him he could no longer live at her home.

Later that afternoon, between 3 and 4 p.m., Lamb showed up at the house on Harmon and demanded to be let inside. Simpkins said Lamb ultimately kicked down a door into the kitchen, and set upon him. Lamb was “raging,” and looking “real evil,” according to court papers.

“This is my f’ing house,” Lamb told Simpkins, as he attacked the younger, much smaller, man with a knife that had a 5- to 6-inch blade, stabbing him in the arm and leg. He also bit Simpkins on the eye and forehead before the woman — who hadn’t seen the knife — ran in between them, allowing Simpkins to free himself.

“That’s when he turned on me,” the woman testified. Lamb charged at her, and they tussled between her kitchen and dining room. She stumbled and fell to the ground. “And when I fell, and he was on top of me, I don’t know what was going on. There was so many things in my mind going on. And I screamed at him, ‘Victor, what are you doing?’”

Lamb stopped immediately, stood up, and walked to a bedroom in the back. Simpkins and his grandmother ran outside, and called police. But she said she hadn’t initially realized she and her grandson had been stabbed.

“I noticed that Jayson was bleeding. And I was standing on the step…. And I felt wet,” she said, according to court papers. “And I looked down, but I didn’t see anything. So I pulled my blouse down just a little, and I said, ‘oh, he got me.’”

She said she had been left with four stab wounds in the chest, including an “ugly” gash about an inch deep, and more than 2 inches across that required sutures. Simpkins had been left with a curved 2-inch scar on his arm, which he said he had used to block Lamb from stabbing the side of his chest during the attack, and a scar on his eye and forehead where Lamb had bit him.

An ambulance took them for treatment before the fire started, so she said that, too, had been surprise to her. The house was ultimately rendered uninhabitable as a result of the fire, and the woman testified that she had returned just once to try to salvage some of her property.

Police arrived quickly to the scene on Harmon, between Baker and Sacramento streets, according to court papers. Officer Brian Kishiyama, with the Berkeley Police Department, testified that he heard what sounded like “loud furniture being thrown around” when he walked up toward the house.

Kishiyama moved into the rear yard of a home next door, and from that vantage point saw Lamb’s head and arms sticking out of a second-floor window. Officers were trying to convince Lamb to come outside, but he wasn’t complying. Lamb told officers “he had lighter fluid on his clothing. And he was going to burn and kill himself,” Kishiyama said, according to the transcript.

Kishiyama noticed smoke and flames coming from the front of the house into the backyard. Officers tried to convince Lamb to climb onto a ladder, but he refused. Kishiyama said two officers then went up another ladder, grabbed Lamb and dragged him outside.

One officer said “she did hear a dog that was dying during the fire…. It sounded like he was yelping,” Kishiyama testified.

Lamb said to 911 dispatchers, according to the court transcript, that violence to others had not been his intention that day: “I did not come here to hurt anyone,” he said, adding that he had just wanted to kill himself.

Lamb has been in custody since his initial arrest Jan. 29, 2013. In December 2013, after being held to answer for many of the charges against him during the September 2013 preliminary hearing, he entered dual pleas of not guilty, and not guilty by reason of insanity plea. His mental health was then assessed multiple times to evaluate whether that was appropriate. One psychiatrist wrote in March 2014 that he needed 12 hours, at $200 an hour, to go through “more than two hundred pages of criminal and mental health records, both local and from Kansas,” where Lamb spent most of his adult life. He said he had received one such packet from the defense, and expected a similar one from the prosecution. Ultimately, however, in October 2014, Lamb changed his plea to no contest.

Lamb previously served time in prison after two felony convictions in Kansas in 1981 for second-degree robbery, as well as a felony conviction for the arson of an inhabited dwelling in Kansas in 1989. According to court papers, he had also been arrested in 2012 after stealing a vehicle, and for assaulting first responders during that incident.

Friday morning, Lamb was sentenced in Department 12 at the Rene C. Davidson Courthouse in downtown Oakland to serve 85% of his 15-year sentence in state prison before he can be considered for parole, said Teresa Drenick, spokeswoman for the Alameda County district attorney’s office. Lamb must also pay fines into a restitution fund as part of his sentence.

Stabbing, arson suspect identified, dog died in fire (01.30.13)
Suspect stabs 2, sets house on fire on Harmon Street (01.29.13)

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Emilie Raguso (former senior editor, news) joined Berkeleyside in 2012 and covered politics, public safety and development until her departure in 2022. In 2017, Emilie was named Journalist...