Ex-detective’s husband and father will stand trial in Stanislaus County

04/21/2014 8:46 PM

04/21/2014 8:48 PM

A judge on Monday determined there is enough evidence for the husband and father of a former Stanislaus County sheriff’s detective to stand trial, accused of conspiring to forcibly enter rental homes owned by their family.

Defendants Bennie Taylor and James Abbey also are being prosecuted on charges of cultivating marijuana. They are scheduled to return to court May 5 for an arraignment hearing. Former Detective Kari Abbey is married to Taylor and her father is James Abbey.

The ex-detective also is scheduled to return to court May 5 for a hearing to reschedule her trial. Her case is related, but she is being prosecuted separately.

She is accused of embezzling from the Sheriff’s Department, cultivating marijuana, conspiracy to commit unlawful evictions and child endangerment. The embezzlement charge stems from allegations that she used some of her work time to conduct business for her family’s rental properties.

Some of the testimony in the lengthy preliminary hearing focused on the discovery of guns and an indoor marijuana garden with about 100 plants on property Kari Abbey shared with her parents.

Stephen Foley, James Abbey’s attorney, argued that all the plants were either fledgling or dying, and any suggestion that the marijuana was being grown to sell is “silly.” His client told authorities he has a medical marijuana card and that the plants were for his personal use.

“This was not a sophisticated operation,” Foley said about the garden.

An investigator with the District Attorney’s Office testified that the average height of the plants was 3 to 6 feet, and he estimated each plant could produce about a quarter-pound of marijuana. During cross-examination, he said there were only a few plants that were close to 6 feet tall, and one of them didn’t appear healthy. He also said 85 of the plants found were 16 to 19 inches tall.

Investigators also found grow lights, a watering system and an air-filtering system that would blow out the plants’ pungent smell and bring in fresh air for optimal growing conditions.

The attorneys on Monday afternoon also argued over incidents involving Kari Abbey’s family and their tenants. At a home on Wylie Drive in central Modesto, prosecutors claim the former detective, her husband and her father threatened the tenants to force them to leave.

Kirk McAllister, Taylor’s attorney, argued that there was insufficient evidence his client was part of a conspiracy. He told the judge there was a planned walk-through for the Wylie Drive home, and the only surprise was that they went in through the back door.

Chief Deputy District Attorney Dave Harris argued that the acts show a pattern of unlawful behavior. The prosecutor said Kari Abbey and Taylor harassed a tenant’s wife at a South Santa Cruz Avenue home in Modesto’s airport neighborhood before Taylor sucker punched the husband.

McAllister argued that the tenant was agitated while confronting Kari Abbey when Taylor got out of his vehicle to intervene.

The prosecutor argued that conspiratorial behavior led to a deadly confrontation between Kari Abbey and Rita Elias at a Donald Street home in west Modesto on Sept. 24, 2010. Stanislaus Superior Court Judge Ricardo Córdova has ruled that Kari Abbey shot Elias in self-defense.

An argument over late rent had ensued between Kari Abbey and Elias. Abbey punched Elias, and the two women struggled on the ground before James Abbey broke up the fight, according to testimony. Kari Abbey grabbed Elias’ backpack and threw it across the street, telling Elias she needed to get her stuff and leave.

“Again, this is the epitome of the forced eviction,” Harris told the judge.

Elias refused to leave and, according to testimony, continued to challenge Kari Abbey, telling her she knew where she lived. Another investigator testified that Elias threatened to get gang members to retaliate against Kari Abbey.

When Elias brandished a BB gun, a replica of a semiautomatic pistol, Kari Abbey shot Elias, authorities said. The former detective no longer faces a murder charge in Elias’ death.

McAllister argued that Taylor wasn’t at the Donald Street home, so he couldn’t possibly have been part of a conspiracy there. “There really is no evidence to support a conspiracy charge as to Mr. Taylor,” he told the judge.

Foley, James Abbey’s attorney, also argued there isn’t enough evidence to support the felony conspiracy charge. Foley asked the judge at least to reduce the charge to a misdemeanor. The judge did not reduce the charge.

Judge Córdova agreed to drop a count of receiving a stolen handgun against James Abbey. But he will stand trial charged with illegally possessing a sawed-off shotgun.

The judge ordered Taylor to stand trial charged with felony counts of child endangerment and possessing an assault weapon, along with misdemeanor counts of illegally possessing steroids and illegally carrying a concealed handgun in a vehicle.

The child endangerment charges against the former detective and her husband stem from the guns found in their home, which prosecutors say were accessible to their children.

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