A judge on Wednesday more than tripled the bail amount for a former Stanislaus County sheriff's detective accused of murder in connection with the off-duty shooting of a Modesto woman who brandished a BB gun.
Kari Abbey, 34, has been charged with second-degree murder and voluntary manslaughter along with conspiracy, embezzlement, cultivating marijuana, receiving stolen property and child endangerment.
Rita Elias, 31, of Modesto died Sept. 24 after Abbey shot her multiple times during an argument in front of a small duplex owned by Abbey's parents on Donald Street in west Modesto, according to authorities.
Chief Deputy District Attorney Dave Harris, who is prosecuting the case, told Stanislaus County Superior Court Judge Ricardo Córdova an oversight occurred when the murder charge was not included while Abbey's initial bail was set. He said the nature of the crime called for an increased bail equal to others charged similarly.
"These are very serious charges that the defendant is looking at," Harris told the judge.
Michael Rains, Abbey's defense attorney, argued that two witnesses saw Elias emerge with the BB gun, which looked like a real gun, and point it at Abbey, who had her two children inside her vehicle nearby.
"This is not a typical murder case. This is not a typical murder defendant," Rains said in court. "This case is a self-defense shooting."
He argued that his client is not a threat to the public and has strong ties to the community that do not make her a flight risk. Rains said Abbey owns 10 properties; one she co-owns with her husband.
Despite Rains' arguments, Córdova raised Abbey's bail from $300,000 to $1 million. The judge allowed Abbey to remain free on her current bail, giving her until Aug. 17 to post the new $1 million bail bond.
Córdova scheduled a pretrial hearing Sept. 12. Rains told the judge he was still in the process of receiving discovery evidence from prosecutors.
In court documents, the district attorney's office said Abbey abused tenants at her rental properties, used fellow deputies to serve eviction papers while they were on duty and conducted her business on county time.
Rains told the judge the prosecution's theory is based on three tenants investigators "cherry-picked" who made complaints about Abbey. He said two of the three have multiple evictions and two of the three have felony convictions.
The defense attorney went on to say Elias was not a tenant in the single-story duplex. She had been staying in one of the apartments, and Abbey went there to collect rent and did not expect a violent encounter.
"That's what we're dealing with here," Rains said before Córdova's ruling. "That's why this case is not a murder case."
Harris told the judge sheriff's officials had been at the apartment a week before because Elias was seeking advice as a renter. Her roommates were trying to remove her from the home, Harris said, and sheriff's officials told Elias she had to be lawfully evicted before she would be forced to leave.
The prosecutor said Abbey had a pattern of unlawfully evicting tenants, sometimes shutting off utilities before forcing them to leave. He said Abbey had no right to evict Elias or use force to remove her.
Harris said the two women fought before Elias went to grab the BB gun to defend herself and Abbey shot Elias.
"(Elias) was pummeled," Harris told the judge. "If you break the law and don't have the right to self-defense, it's murder."
In addition, a March 30 search of the home and outbuildings Abbey shared with her husband and father yielded a sophisticated marijuana garden, several weapons, counterfeit bills, steroids and items from the Hayward Police Department. Abbey's husband, Bennie Taylor, worked for the Hayward police until last year.
Bee staff writer Rosalio Ahumada can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 578-2394.