OC judge ordered to stand trial in wife's shooting death

An Orange County Superior Court judge who allegedly admitted killing his wife was ordered Thursday to stand trial on a murder charge stemming from her shooting during an argument at their Anaheim Hills home.

Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Eleanor J. Hunter rejected a defense motion to dismiss the case against Jeffrey Ferguson, who is charged in the Aug. 3, 2023, killing of his 65-year-old wife, Sheryl.

Defense attorney T. Edward Welbourn argued that there was insufficient evidence to require his 73-year-old client to stand trial on the murder charge, noting that the only eyewitness -- one of the couple's sons -- told police he felt the shooting was accidental.

judge Jeffrey Ferguson

The case was moved to Los Angeles County because of Ferguson's ties with the Orange County court system.

The hearing in a downtown Los Angeles courtroom included testimony from three Anaheim police officers and a police detective who responded to the scene after one of the couple's sons called 911 to report the shooting.

Officer Andrew Compton said Ferguson spontaneously said, "I just killed my wife," after he was taken that night to the Anaheim Police Department's headquarters.

Two other officers, Brandon Lander and Joshua Juntilla, testified that Ferguson had told police, "Shoot me," while he was outside the family's home.

Juntilla -- who said he smelled an odor of alcohol emanating from Ferguson -- testified that the defendant spontaneously said, "What did I do? My son will hate me forever. Can you have my son come over ... and punch me in the face because I deserve it."

He described Ferguson's demeanor as "shock" and "regret," and said he remembered seeing tears from Ferguson's eyes and eventually informed him that his wife was dead after Ferguson had repeatedly asked about her condition.

Anaheim Police Detective Michael Nguyen said he spoke three times with the couple's son, Phillip, who described his parents as routinely having verbal arguments that had never been physical.

The police detective said the couple's son accompanied his mother and father to dinner that night at a Mexican restaurant, where the couple verbally argued. He said his father "made a hand gesture in the shaped of a gun" and "pointed it at his mother," who then walked out of the restaurant.

When the family got home from dinner, they proceeded to watch the TV series "Breaking Bad" and the argument resumed, the couple's son told police.

The detective said the couple's son -- who was getting ready to go outside through a sliding glass door -- told police that he heard his mother say something like "Why don't you point a real gun at me?" and that he saw his father holding a firearm in his right hand that immediately went off.

The couple's son said he jumped over the couch to pin his father's hand and get the gun away from him after the shooting because he was worried his father might hurt himself, according to the detective.

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The couple's son told police that he felt "alcohol may have played a role" in what happened.

"He said his father told him to call 911," the detective said, noting that the last thing the couple's son heard his mother say was, "He shot me."

Under cross-examination, the detective said the couple's son said he had never seen his father make a hand gesture to his mother like the one he made at dinner that night and that he described his father as very safe with his weapons.

ANAHEIM, CA - August 04: Officials investigate a shooting at a house in the 8500 block of E. Canyon Vista Dr. in Anaheim, CA on Friday, August 4, 2023. (Photo by Paul Bersebach/MediaNews Group/Orange County Register via Getty Images)

During at least one interview with police, the couple's son described his father as being a "terrible shot" and said he felt that his father had shot his mother by accident.

He said one of the reasons the couple's son thought it may have been accidental was because his father "never shoots one-handed," the detective testified, noting that the couple's son described going to the shooting range with his father.

Lander testified that he went inside the house after Ferguson was detained, and found the woman on her back near the rear sliding glass door, noticed blood on her chest area and pulled her away from the confined area in an attempt to render aid.

"Did any of it appear to be working?" prosecutor Seton Hunt asked.

"No," the officer responded. "Medics came and they pronounced her deceased."

He said he saw a chair or couch tipped over, but didn't get close enough to notice any damage.

Nguyen, who went inside the house after the shooting, said there appeared to be a bullet hole in the back of a chair and that a .40-caliber Glock was found nearby. An autopsy determined that the woman had died of a gunshot wound to the abdomen, according to the detective.

Ferguson has remained free on $1 million bond posted shortly after his arrest.

At a court hearing last August, Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Ricardo R. Ocampo ordered Ferguson to surrender his passport, not to consume any alcohol and to wear a GPS device and an alcohol monitoring device -- both of which he is still wearing, according to his attorney.

Ferguson is due back in court July 5 for arraignment.

Outside court, Ferguson's attorney told reporters that what happened was "accidental."

"He would never intend to hurt her," Welbourn said. "It was just a terribly tragic incident that occurred. ... The last thing he would try to do is hurt the love of his life."

The defense attorney said he expects the case to go to trial.

Ferguson, a native of Oakland, earned a bachelor's degree in biological sciences and social ecology from UC 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 last year at a memorial service.