California Judge Pleads Not Guilty to Murder

Lawyer says judge's wife died in 'accidental' shooting
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Aug 15, 2023 6:30 PM CDT
California Judge Pleads Not Guilty to Murder
Orange County Superior Court Judge Jeffrey Ferguson sits during a hearing at the Clara Shortridge Foltz Criminal Justice Center, Tuesday, Aug. 15, 2023, in Los Angeles.   (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes, Pool)

A Southern California judge charged with killing his wife during an argument while he was drunk pleaded not guilty to murder Tuesday, and his lawyer says it was an "accidental shooting." Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Ricardo Ocampo ordered Orange County Superior Court Judge Jeffrey Ferguson to surrender his passport, submit to searches, and wear monitoring devices for blood alcohol content and GPS as part of new bail conditions sought by prosecutors, the AP reports. Ferguson, who is free on $1 million bail, also is barred from possessing firearms and alcohol and frequenting places such as bars and liquor stores.

After the hearing, Ferguson's lawyers told reporters the longtime judge and former prosecutor was confident a jury would agree with him that no crime was committed. "This was an unintentional, accidental shooting and not a crime," attorney Paul Meyer said. The hearing was held in Los Angeles because Ferguson has been a judge hearing criminal cases in a courtroom about 25 miles to the southeast in Orange County. The next hearing in Ferguson's case was set for Oct. 30. The 72-year-old was arrested on Aug. 3 at his home in the upscale neighborhood of Anaheim Hills after police found his wife, Sheryl Ferguson, shot to death.

Prosecutors said in court filings that the couple had been arguing and the judge was drinking when he pulled a pistol from an ankle holster and shot her in the chest. The couple's adult son and Ferguson called 911, and Ferguson texted his court clerk and bailiff to say he had shot his wife, according to the filings. He texted: "I just lost it. I just shot my wife. I won't be in tomorrow. I will be in custody. I'm so sorry," according to the filing. Ferguson was charged with one count of murder and weapons-related enhancements. The arrest shocked the Southern California legal community and officials have been grappling with how the case should be handled. (More California stories.)

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