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California Judge Pleads Not Guilty to Gunning Down Wife in Anaheim

California Judge Pleads Not Guilty to Gunning Down Wife in Anaheim

Orange County Superior Court Judge Jeffrey Ferguson appears during a hearing at the Clara Shortridge Foltz Criminal Justice Center in Los Angeles on Aug. 15, 2023. (Damian Dovarganes/AP Photo)

City News Service

City News Service

8/15/2023

Updated: 8/18/2023

Orange County Superior Court Judge Jeffrey Ferguson pleaded not guilty in downtown Los Angeles on Aug. 15 to a murder charge alleging he fatally shot his wife during an argument in their Anaheim Hills home.
Mr. Ferguson, 72, who was initially jailed on $1 million bail, remains free on bond.
In court Tuesday, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Ricardo R. Ocampo approved release conditions including a ban on alcohol consumption and a requirement that Mr. Ferguson surrender his passport. Mr. Ferguson was also ordered to stay away from any establishments where alcohol is the primary business, such as bars or liquor stores.
The judge barred Mr. Ferguson from possessing any deadly or dangerous weapons and ordered him to wear a GPS device and an alcohol monitoring device, but rejected a request by prosecutors that Mr. Ferguson have no contact with one of his sons, who was at the Anaheim Hills home at the time of the shooting.
A date is scheduled to be set on Oct. 30 for a hearing to determine if there is enough evidence for Mr. Ferguson to stand trial. The proceedings were moved to Los Angeles County because of Mr. Ferguson’s ties with the Orange County Superior Court.
Mr. Ferguson was charged last week with murder with sentencing enhancements for the personal discharge of a firearm causing death and the personal use of a firearm. He is accused of killing his wife, Sheryl, on Aug. 3 at their Anaheim Hills home.
Outside the downtown Los Angeles courthouse after the hearing, one of Mr. Ferguson’s attorneys, Paul Meyer, told reporters, “We want to be clear this was an unintentional, accidental shooting and not a crime. We'll be reviewing all of the evidence obviously, but we want our position to be very clear.”
Another of Mr. Ferguson’s lawyers, John Barnett, said his client had “protected and served the citizens of Orange County for 40 years” and said Mr. Ferguson is “confident” that jurors will agree with us that this was “an unintentional discharge of a firearm.”
“There was no intent to kill. There was no malice and they'll find him not guilty,” Mr. Barnett said.
One of Sheryl Ferguson’s brothers, Larry Rosen, told reporters outside court that his sister—whom he said has been his “rock”—was “a wonderful person, very caring, very selfless and the family is absolutely in shock.”
“... She’s going to be missed [badly]. She’s very well-loved by many, many people,” the woman’s brother said. “I would describe what’s happening as a tragedy, an absolute tragedy.”
He noted that he and his brother-in-law had made eye contact while in the courtroom, saying, “I busted down in tears. This is really hard, this is really hard.”
Anaheim Police Department officers arrested Mr. Ferguson after they were called to his home in the 8500 block of East Canyon Vista Drive just after 8 p.m. on Aug. 3 for reports of a shooting. Inside the home, officers found 65-year-old Sheryl Ferguson, the judge’s wife, suffering from at least one gunshot wound, said Anaheim Police Sgt. Jonathan McClintock.
Sheryl Ferguson was pronounced dead at the scene.
Jeffrey Ferguson was booked into the Anaheim Jail and later transferred to Orange County Jail on suspicion of murder and was being held on $1 million bail, Mr. McClintock said. He posted bond and was released at 2:05 p.m. on Aug. 4, according to jail records.
The District Attorney’s Office said in a statement last week that prosecutors were concerned about a .22-caliber rifle registered to Mr. Ferguson that remained unaccounted for after officers removed 47 other weapons and about 26,000 rounds of ammunition from his home. Another rifle police missed was later turned in by defense attorneys, prosecutors said.
Investigators remove firearms from the house of Orange County Superior Court Judge Jeffrey Ferguson in the 8500 block of E. Canyon Vista Dr. in Anaheim, Calif., on Aug. 4, 2023. (Paul Bersebach/The Orange County Register via AP)

Investigators remove firearms from the house of Orange County Superior Court Judge Jeffrey Ferguson in the 8500 block of E. Canyon Vista Dr. in Anaheim, Calif., on Aug. 4, 2023. (Paul Bersebach/The Orange County Register via AP)

In a bail motion, Deputy District Attorney Christopher Alex said Mr. Ferguson shot his wife “through the chest in the living room of their home in Anaheim.”
The prosecutor alleged the judge used a “loaded .40 pistol that he pulled from his ankle holster. He shot her at close range. He did so while intoxicated. His adult son witnessed the homicide.”
The dispute began earlier in the evening while the couple argued during a dinner at a restaurant near their home, Mr. Alex said.
Mr. Ferguson “pointed his finger at his wife in a manner mimicking a firearm,” Mr. Alex said, adding that the conflict continued at home “periodically” for about an hour.
Referring to the hand gesture at dinner, Sheryl Ferguson allegedly said moments before her husband opened fire “words to the effect of: ‘Why don’t you point a real gun at me?”’ Mr. Alex alleged.
Mr. Ferguson “retrieved his pistol from his ankle holster and shot [his wife] center mass,” Mr. Alex alleged.
Mr. Ferguson’s son called 911 and the judge did so as well. When a dispatcher asked the judge if he shot his wife, he said he did not want to discuss that at the time and when asked again, he said she needed paramedics, Mr. Alex said.
Minutes later, Mr. Alex alleged, Mr. Ferguson sent a text message to his court clerk and bailiff, saying, “I just lost it. I just shot my wife. I won’t be in tomorrow. I will be in custody. I’m so sorry.”
The clerk and bailiff assumed he was joking, Mr. Alex said.
When officers arrived, Mr. Ferguson “slurred words and smelled of alcohol,” and their body-worn cameras caught him saying, “... well, I guess I’m done for a while ... oh my God ... my son ... my son ... I’m sorry ... I [expletive] up ... Oh man, I can’t believe I did this,” Mr. Alex alleged.
Seven hours after the shooting investigators got a blood sample from Mr. Ferguson, which showed he had a blood-alcohol level of 0.06.
Orange County Superior Court Judge Jeffrey Ferguson (R) sits next to his attorneys John Drummond Barnett (L) and Paul Meyer during a hearing at the Clara Shortridge Foltz Criminal Justice Center in Los Angeles on Aug. 15, 2023. (Damian Dovarganes/AP Photo)

Orange County Superior Court Judge Jeffrey Ferguson (R) sits next to his attorneys John Drummond Barnett (L) and Paul Meyer during a hearing at the Clara Shortridge Foltz Criminal Justice Center in Los Angeles on Aug. 15, 2023. (Damian Dovarganes/AP Photo)

His son told police that his father is more “heated” when drinking and arguing with his wife, Mr. Alex said.
His son “reported that, a few years prior, [Sheryl Ferguson] reported to him that the defendant had attempted suicide with a gun,” Mr. Alex said. The son also said another time Mr. Ferguson discharged a gun while alone in a bathroom at the house.
The son did not witness the shooting and characterized it as an accidental discharge to officers, Mr. Alex said.
The Fergusons have two sons, Kevin and Phillip, both adults.
Jeffrey Ferguson, a native of Oakland, earned a bachelor’s degree in biological sciences and social ecology from the University of California–Irvine in 1973. He earned his law degree in 1982 from Western State College of Law, beginning his legal career the following year in the Orange County District Attorney’s Office, where he later became a senior prosecutor assigned to the Major Narcotics Enforcement Team.
He was president of the North Orange County Bar Association from 2012–14. The Orange County Narcotics Officers Association awarded him prosecutor of the year four times. He became a judge in 2015.
In 2017, he was admonished by the state Commission on Judicial Performance for comments he made on Facebook about a prosecutor who was campaigning to be a jurist and for maintaining “friends” status with three defense attorneys who had cases before him.
Sheryl Ferguson previously worked for the Santa Barbara and Orange County probation departments and later for the American Funds Service Company for almost 20 years prior to becoming a full-time mother. Her brother described her as “very, very active in the community,” including the Boy Scouts, and said a “capacity crowd” of family, friends, and community members paid tribute to her at a memorial service last week.
Larry Rosen noted that his sister moved back to the area when their mother died before he was 18 and became his “pseudo mom,” saying that “demonstrates the selflessness that my sister had.”
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