Amid heightened security and a packed courtroom galley filled with a palpable tension, the preliminary hearing for the former Stanislaus County sheriff’s detective accused of murder for an off-duty shooting of a Modesto woman got underway Tuesday.
Kari Abbey, 34, is charged with second-degree murder and voluntary manslaughter for the shooting death of Rita Elias, 31, on Sept. 24, 2010. Abbey is also charged with conspiracy to forcibly enter a home, embezzlement from a government entity, receiving stolen property, cultivating marijuana, and permitting a child to be endangered.
The preliminary hearing is being held to determine if there is enough cause to hold Abbey over for trial.
The courtroom was filled with Abbey’s supporters and family and friends of Elias. The two sides were ushered out at separate times and were given strict instructions by Judge Ricardo Cordova on how they should behave while at the courthouse.
“I know this is a very emotional case for many of you and I expect you to treat each other with decency,” Cordova said.
Abbey was brought in through a side entrance, away from the throng waiting in the hallway.
Abbey was at the residence at 1708 Donald St. on Sept. 24, 2010 to collect rent when the two women got into a verbal argument that soon escalated into a physical fight. At some point the two women separated and Elias went back into the home. Abbey retrieved a pistol from her vehicle and Elias came out of the home with a gun in one hand and a branch in the other. Abbey fired her pistol, striking Elias multiple times. Elias was taken to Doctors Medical Center, where she was pronounced dead. It was later revealed the gun in Elias’ hand was a BB gun.
Abbey’s father and two children were at the property and witnessed the shooting.
The shooting was investigated by the sheriff department’s homicide unit and then turned over to the Stanislaus County District Attorney’s Office.
The day’s testimony came solely from the various law enforcement involved in the investigation.
A key element to the prosecution’s case is proving Elias was a tenant at the duplex and thereby setting the stage to prove Abbey was illegally trying to evict her from the property.
Sheriff’s Deputy Vince Hooper testified he had been to the Donald Street property on Aug. 20, 2010 for a report of a verbal dispute. Elias was the reporting party and said her two roommates were trying to kick her out of the home. The deputy testified he told the two men they had to follow a process to evict Elias. Under cross-examination by defense attorney Michael Rains, Hopper said he never saw any document or proof Elias was a tenant at the home.
Sheriff’s Sgt. Brandon Kiley testified he found two documents from Comcast Cable at the residence with Elias’ name on them. He also found a probation letter to Elias with the Donald Street address listed as her residence.
Sheriff’s detective Jon McQueary testified to Elias’ autopsy. He said the forensic pathologist found numerous bruises on Elias — including her scalp — that were consistent with a physical fight and hair pulling.
McQueary also testified about the three bullets that pierced Elias’ body. He said the fatal shot entered her right arm when it was extended out and passed into her chest, hitting her lungs and heart. The forensic pathologist determined Elias died within minutes from massive hemorrhaging.
A toxicology report showed methamphetamine in Elias’ system.
Sheriff’s detective Frank Soria testified about his interviews with Jose Flores, a man who occasionally works as a property manager for Abbey and who was present at the shooting. Flores told the detective the three entered the duplex without getting permission from the renters and without giving proper notice.
The detective testified that Flores heard Elias say that she would “get” Abbey and her father and that she knew where they lived.
The hearing is scheduled to resume today.
To contact Sabra Stafford, e-mail email@example.com or call 634-9141 ext. 2002.