The murder and voluntary manslaughter charges lodged against former sheriff’s detective Kari Abbey for the fatal shooting of 31-year-old Rita Elias were tossed out at the conclusion of her preliminary hearing Monday in Stanislaus County Superior Court.
In his ruling, Superior Court Judge Ricardo Cordova called Abbey “the initial aggressor” and that her actions “started the tragic events,” but that it was Elias’ decision to retrieve a weapon from the home, albeit a BB gun, that led Abbey to fire her own gun in self-defense.
Cordova said there was enough evidence to support the theory that Abbey believed Elias’ threat to get a gun posed a very real danger to herself, her father and her two children present at the scene and that she was entitled to take action to protect them.
Abbey, 34, was accused of gunning down Elias on Sept. 24, 2010, after attempts to evict her from the Donald Street property owned by Abbey’s father turned into a physical altercation between the two women. At one point Elias went back into the home and came out with a branch in her left hand and a gun in the right. According to the autopsy report, the fatal shot passed through Elias’ right arm when it was raised out in front of her, before traveling into her chest.
It was later discovered that the gun in Elias’ hand was a BB gun. In his ruling Cordova remarked that the BB gun looked extremely like a real handgun and lacked an orange tip commonly used to distinguish BB guns from real handguns.
As the probe into the shooting expanded investigators obtained search warrants for Abbey’s residential property, where she lived with her husband Bennie Taylor, their two children and her parents. During the search investigators seized an assault rifle, a shotgun, a .22-caliber handgun, steroids, three police vests, 106 marijuana plants ranging in maturity, along with three bags of packaged marijuana, scales and packaging material.
Abbey was subsequently arrested and charged with 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.
Cordova did side with the District Attorney’s Office on four of the lesser charges, finding there was credible evidence to hold Abbey over for trial on the charges of conspiracy to forcibly enter a home, embezzlement from a government entity, cultivating marijuana, and permitting a child to be endangered.
The judge especially chided Abbey for having the loaded weapons in her home in places that could have been accessible to her children, which prompted the child endangerment charge.
“It causes serious concern,” Cordova said. “It’s very fortunate no one was injured.”
The charge of receiving stolen property was dismissed by Cordova because he said the prosecution, led by Deputy District Attorney Dave Harris, had not proven the property — three law enforcement issued vests — were in fact stolen.
Abbey is scheduled for arraignment on the remaining charges on Jan. 23.
The preliminary hearing took place over several days and was being held to determine if there was enough evidence to hold Abbey over for trial on the charges against her.
Abbey’s defense attorney Michael Rains used a portion of his closing arguments to urge the judge to really consider all the evidence presented and “not just treat the preliminary hearing as a ritual.”
“If ever there was a case where most or all of the charges should be thrown out, this is it,” Rains said. “This is a case about a self-defense shooting that the District Attorney, through crafty theories, has turned into a murder.”
Rains also said the additional charges filed against Abbey were “a PR campaign to smear her name in the community.”
“Kari Abbey has endured enough infamy and expense from these charges,” Rains said.
The moments leading up to the ruling were tense in the packed courtroom. From the side filled with Abbey’s supporters, the ruling was met with an audible sigh of relief. On the other side, which was largely filled with Elias’ family and friends, there were groans and in a few cases, expressions of disgust and anguish.
Security was heightened with six bailiffs positioned around the courtroom and others out in the hallway. Upon the ruling, one woman, who had previously shown support for Elias, made a comment that got her immediately ejected from the courtroom. Following her out was another Elias supporter, who left of her own volition, but yelled an expletive as she made her exit. A bailiff followed her out and ordered her to leave the courthouse, which led to a terse and angry reply in the hallway.
These actions prompted a lockdown of the courtroom with no one allowed to leave until the judge dismissed everyone. The two sides were escorted from the courthouse at separate times by the bailiffs.
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