Despite a vigorous argument from her defense attorney, Kari Abbey, the former Stanislaus County Sheriff’s detective, had her bail raised to $1 million after a review hearing Wednesday.
Superior Court Judge Ricardo Cordova ordered the increased amount, saying an oversight in the bail schedule had the “unintended consequence” of granting Abbey a lower bail amount than is normally given to an individual facing a murder charge.
Abbey has been out on a $300,000 bail since her arrest in May. She is facing charges of second-degree murder, voluntary manslaughter, conspiracy to forcibly enter a home, embezzlement from a government entity, receiving stolen property, cultivating marijuana, and permitting a child to be endangered.
Abbey came under investigation after an off-duty shooting in the 1700 block of Donald Street in Modesto on Sept. 24, 2010, which resulted in the death of Rita Elias, 31.
Abbey was at the residence 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.
The shooting was investigated by the sheriff department’s homicide unit and then turned over to the Stanislaus County District Attorney’s Office.
Cordova did not order Abbey remanded into custody. He gave her until Aug. 17 to come up with the additional funds to make the new bail amount. If she can’t come up with the money she will be taken into custody.
The judge’s decision to raise the bail amount was met with an outburst of cheers from the family and friends of Elias who were sitting in the back of the courtroom. Cordova warned the spectators that any further outbursts or trouble in the hallway would result in the individuals being banned from future proceedings.
Abbey, who was making her second appearance at the courthouse, came with an entourage of supporters who sat silently when the judge made his ruling.
Abbey’s defense attorney Michael Rains argued that her bail amount should remain at $300,000 because “this is not a typical murder case and this is not a typical murder defendant. This case is a self-defense shooting,” Rains said.
Chief Deputy District Attorney Dave Harris argued Abbey couldn’t claim self-defense because she was committing an unlawful act just prior to the shooting.
The conspiracy charge against Abbey comes from complaints from other tenants who have stated Abbey would enter their homes without 24-hour notice, as required by law, and would turn off their utilities without any prior notice. The affidavit filed for Abbey’s arrest accuses her of engaging in a pattern of illegal tenant/landlord practices and using her position with the sheriff’s department to intimidate her renters.
Harris argued that Abbey was committing an illegal act by trying to force Elias off the property and by engaging in a physical confrontation.
“The defendant beat up Ms. Elias. She was pummeled,” Harris said.
“The law doesn’t allow self-defense when you’re breaking the law,” Harris continued.
Harris said that because Abbey had attended tenant/landlord classes as part of her training with the sheriff’s department, she “should be held to a higher standard.”
“She knew better,” Harris said. “She believed she was above the law.”
Rains argued the court should use its discretion in setting the bail because the district attorney’s office’s case was just a “clever and crafty theory.”
In reference to the tenant complaints against Abbey, Rains said the district attorney’s office had “cherry-picked three” tenants and that of those three, two had numerous prior evictions and felony arrests.
Rains also argued that Elias had no right to be at the property and was the one to instigate the confrontation.
“Kari Abbey went there to collect money,” Rains said. “She wasn’t expecting trouble, let alone a gunfight.”
Rains said he had two witnesses who heard Elias say she was going to get a gun during the fight with Abbey. Even though it was a BB gun Elias retrieved, Rains said it “looks exactly like a real gun in every way.”
The prosecution told the court they had evidence that Elias was a tenant at the property and not a squatter and therefore afforded the same rights at the other tenants.
Harris said Elias’ name was on the cable bill for the home and that she listed that residence as her home with the probation department.
About a week before the shooting Elias had spoken with the sheriff’s department about eviction processes because her roommates were trying to force her out, Harris said.
In addition to the bail review hearing, a pretrial motion was held and the judge granted the defense more time for discovery. Another pretrial date was set for Sept. 12.
To contact Sabra Stafford, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call 634-9141 ext. 2002.