Orange County judge pleads not guilty to murder in wife's shooting death

Orange County Superior Court Judge Jeffrey Ferguson on Tuesday pleaded not guilty to murder in the shooting death of his wife during an argument in their Anaheim Hills home.

Ferguson, 72, remains free on bond. A Los Angeles judge approved release conditions including a prohibition on alcohol consumption and a requirement that Ferguson surrender his passport.

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. His original arraignment hearing was scheduled for Sept. 1 but moved up to seek restrictions on his bail.

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Ferguson is accused of killing his wife, Sheryl, Aug. 3 at their Anaheim Hills home.

Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer reported he had consulted with the Attorney General's Office, which found no conflict in his agency prosecuting the judge.

"This is a tragedy for the entire Ferguson family," his attorneys John Barnett and Paul Meyer said in a statement. "It was an accident and nothing more."

Sheryl Ferguson's brother, Larry Rosen, issued a statement on behalf of her family on Sunday.

"We would like to thank everyone for their prayers and condolences," the statement read. "Sheryl's death is a tragedy and has significantly affected everyone who knew this lovely woman. Sheryl was a devoted mom, sister and aunt, and was the glue that held our family together."

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Anaheim Police Department officers arrested Ferguson after they were called to his home in the 8500 block of East Canyon Vista Drive just after 8 p.m. Aug. 3 on 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 Department 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, McClintock said. He posted bond and was released at 2:05 p.m. Aug. 4, according to jail records.

The District Attorney's Office said in a statement that prosecutors are concerned about a .22-caliber rifle registered to Ferguson remains 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.

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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, Alex said.

Ferguson "pointed his finger at his wife in a manner mimicking a firearm," Alex said.

The conflict continued at home "periodically" for about an hour, Alex said.

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?"' Alex alleged.

Ferguson "retrieved his pistol from his ankle holster and shot (his wife) center mass," Alex alleged.

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, Alex said.

Minutes later, Alex alleged, 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, Alex said.

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When officers arrived, 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," Alex alleged.

Seven hours after the shooting investigators got a blood sample from Ferguson, which showed he had a blood-alcohol level of .06.

His son told police that his father is more "heated" when drinking and arguing with his wife, Alex said.

The son did not witness the shooting and characterized it as an accidental discharge to officers, Alex said.

The Fergusons have two sons, Kevin and Phillip, both adults.

Another court hearing has been set for Oct. 30, when a date will be set for a hearing to determine if there is enough evidence for Ferguson to stand trial.

City News Service contributed to this report.