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Details of Abbey shooting revealed in court room
Amid heightened security and a packed courtroom galley filled with a palpable tension, the preliminary hearing for the former Stanislaus County sheriff's detective accused of murder for an off-duty shooting of a Modesto woman got underway Dec. 6.

Ceres resident Kari Abbey, 34, is charged with second-degree murder and voluntary manslaughter for the shooting death of Rite Elias, 31, on Sept. 24, 2010. Abbey is also charged with conspiracy to forcibly enter a home, embezzlement from a government entity, receiving stolen property, cultivating marijuana, and permitting a child to be endangered.

The preliminary hearing was held to determine if there is enough cause to hold Abbey over for trial.

The courtroom was filled with Abbey's supporters and family and friends of Elias. The two sides were ushered out at separate times and were given strict instructions by Judge Ricardo Cordova on how they should behave while at the courthouse.

"I know this is a very emotional case for many of you and I expect you to treat each other with decency," Cordova said.

Abbey was brought in through a side entrance, away from the throng waiting in the hallway.

Abbey was at the residence at 1708 Donald Street on Sept. 24, 2010 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.

Abbey's father and two children were at the property and witnessed the shooting.

The shooting was investigated by the Sheriff Department's homicide unit and then turned over to the District Attorney's Office.

The day one testimony came solely from the various law enforcement involved in the investigation.

A key element of the prosecution's murder charge is the residency of Elias. The prosecution, led by Chief Deputy District Attorney Dave Harris, contends Elias was a rightful tenant at the 1708 Donald Street property and therefore should have been afforded a renter's right to a due process eviction. The prosecution claims Abbey acted illegally when she tried to force Abbey from the property and when she entered the home without giving due notice or getting permission.

Sheriff's Deputy Vince Hooper testified he had been to the Donald Street property on Aug. 20, 2010 for a report of a verbal dispute. Elias was the reporting party and said her two roommates were trying to kick her out of the home. The deputy testified he told the two men they had to follow a process to evict Elias. Under cross-examination by defense attorney Michael Rains, Hopper said he never saw any document or proof Elias was a tenant at the home.

Sheriff's Sgt. Brandon Kiley testified he found two documents from Comcast Cable at the residence with Elias' name on them. He also found a probation letter to Elias with the Donald Street address listed as her residence.

The defense attempted to counter this claim by calling Sheriff's Detective Joe Delgado to the stand. Delgado interviewed the men listed as the tenants at the Donald Street property, one of whom told Delgado that Elias was just a guest who would come and go and that she never stayed long at the home. Delgado also testified the man told him Elias' name was on the cable bill because she was the only one with a photo ID card.

Sheriff's detective Jon McQueary testified to Elias' autopsy. He said the forensic pathologist found numerous bruises on Elias - including her scalp - that were consistent with a physical fight and hair pulling.

McQueary also testified about the three bullets that pierced Elias' body. He said the fatal shot entered her right arm when it was extended out and passed into her chest, hitting her lungs and heart. Elias died within minutes from massive hemorrhaging.

A toxicology report showed methamphetamine in Elias' system.

Sheriff's Detective Frank Soria testified about his interviews with Jose Flores, a man who occasionally works as a property manager for Abbey and who was present at the shooting. Flores told the detective the three entered the duplex without getting permission from the renters and without giving proper notice.

The detective testified that Flores heard Elias say that she would "get" Abbey and her father and that she knew where they lived.

Third day of trial

In the third day of the hearing, the prosecution continued efforts to prove Abbey was involved in numerous criminal activities.

Abbey's defense team, led by attorney Michael Rains, started presenting their case that Abbey acted in self-defense the night of the fatal encounter and that the Stanislaus County District Attorney's Office has unjustly targeted her for criminal charges.

Investigators obtained search warrants for Abbey's residential property, where she lived with her husband Bennie Taylor, their two children and her parents as the probe into the shooting expanded. During the search investigators seized an assault rifle, a shotgun, a .22-caliber handgun, steroids, two 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.

The defense has argued that Abbey was not involved with the marijuana grow and that the embezzlement, stolen property and child endangerment counts are trumped up charges.

"They're trying to smear my client by the activity of others," said Rains on Thursday.

District attorney's office Investigator Kirk Bunch was the first witness called Thursday and he detailed his role in the search of the Service Road property where Abbey resided.

Bunch said he smelled a strong odor of marijuana while conducting the search. Inside a large shop the investigators found a marijuana grow set-up. A portion of the shop had been converted into living quarters and the marijuana was found in an adjacent room to the living room.

Bunch testified they found receipts from a hydroponics shop dated about five months prior to the search date on March 31. The set-up included grow lights, an irrigation system, air filtration and a timer, according to Bunch.

Under cross-examination Bunch stated investigators had not checked with the hydroponics shop to verify who bought the equipment, nor had it been fingerprinted.

In the living space of the shop, investigators found a closet containing uniforms belonging to Abbey and husband Bennie Taylor, who retired last year from the Hayward Police Department.

Previous testimony revealed Abbey and Taylor resided in the shop in 2007 while work was done on the main house. They subsequently moved into the main house and the converted shop was occupied by her parents.

During cross-examination District Attorney's office Investigator Mike Hermosa said he had spoken with Abbey's father, James Abbey, during the search and that he made the statement "don't ruin my plants" when investigators entered.

James Abbey allegedly told investigators he was growing the marijuana for several veterans with post traumatic stress syndrome living in the mountains, but would not provide their names to investigators, Bunch said. James Abbey did give investigators with medical marijuana prescriptions for himself, his brother and a third man. Bunch said the grow operation was not in compliance with California's medicinal marijuana laws and that James Abbey is the subject of a pending investigation.

The charge of receiving stolen property stems from the two police vests found in Abbey and Taylor's bedroom. One was a ballistic vest worn by SWAT members and the other was a tactical vest with the name of a deceased detective stitched onto it.

The prosecution claims both vests are the property of the Hayward Police Department. Bunch testified he was told by HPD Lt. Darin Nishimoto the vests were paid for by taxpayers and belonged to the department. However, another HPD lieutenant called as a defense witness disputed that claim.

Lt. David Lundgren testified the tactical vest was not issued by the department and was bought by the detective and was therefore his property to give. Lundgren said the ballistic vest was an older model no longer worn by the SWAT team. He testified Taylor could have been allowed to keep the older vest. Lundgren also said it was not uncommon for vendors to give the vests away at conventions.

No purchase information on the vests could be found.

To prove the child endangerment charge the prosecution called district attorney's office Investigator George Papadopoulos, who routinely looks into child welfare cases. He was brought into Abbey's case to determine if the weapons in the home posed a danger to Abbey's 6-year-old son and 21-month-old daughter.

The assault rifle was found between a mattress and a box spring in the master bedroom. Papadopoulos testified the mattress was too heavy for a child to lift, but that a child could slip a hand in between the mattress and box spring. Papadopoulos did not know if the assault rifle's safety was on or off when found.

The .22-caliber handgun was found in a kitchen drawer and the shotgun was found under a couch cushion. Papadopoulos said a child's toy figurine was found near the trigger. There was no round in the shotgun's chamber, but four were in the tube.

A samurai sword also was found stuck in a flower pot on the floor.

The prosecution has called investigators to the stand who have testified they found evidence that Abbey was conducting personal and rental property business while on duty as a sheriff detective. One former co-worker estimated she spent half her work time doing other things. A search of her department issued vehicle turned up rental signs and paperwork. Investigators also testified Abbey used deputies to issue eviction notices without reimbursing the department. The district attorney's office contends all these activities amount to embezzlement on Abbey's part.

To counter this charge Abbey's former supervisor Sgt. Larry Sikma testified Abbey routinely opted to take her overtime in the form of flex time instead of cash and that he never found her to be abusing her flex time.

When cross-examined by Harris, Sikma said he was unaware of Abbey's rental property business for most of his supervisor assignment.