OC judge pleads not guilty to gunning down wife, agrees to several bail conditions

Wednesday, August 16, 2023
Orange County judge pleads not guilty to murder in wife's death
An Orange County judge charged with killing his wife during an argument while he was drunk pleaded not guilty to murder, and his lawyer says it was an "accidental shooting."

LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- Orange County Superior Court Judge Jeffrey Ferguson pleaded not guilty in downtown Los Angeles Tuesday to a murder charge alleging he fatally shot his wife during an argument in their Anaheim Hills home. His lawyer says it was an "accidental shooting."

The 72-year-old, who was initially jailed on $1 million bail, remains free on bond.

In court Tuesday, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Ricardo Ocampo approved release conditions including a prohibition on alcohol consumption and a requirement that Ferguson surrender his passport. Ferguson was also ordered to avoid places where alcohol is the primary business, such as bars or liquor stores.

Ocampo barred Ferguson from possessing any weapons or ammunition, and the defendant must wear a GPS device and remain in Orange, Riverside or Los Angeles counties. A request by prosecutors that Ferguson have no contact with his son -- who was at the Anaheim Hills home at the time of the shooting -- was rejected.

Ferguson is accused of killing his wife, Sheryl Ferguson, on Aug. 3 at a residence on East Canyon Vista Drive. Officers arrived to find Sheryl Ferguson, 65, suffering from at least one gunshot wound, police said. She was pronounced dead at the scene.

Ferguson's attorneys say the killing was an accident.

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Outside the downtown Los Angeles courthouse after the hearing, one of Ferguson's attorneys, Paul Meyer, told reporters, "We want to be clear this was an unintentional, accidental shooting and not a crime. We'll be reviewing all of the evidence obviously, but we want our position to be very clear."

Another of Ferguson's lawyers, John Barnett, said his client had "protected and served the citizens of Orange County for 40 years" and said Ferguson is "confident" that jurors will agree with us that this was "an unintentional discharge of a firearm."

"There was no intent to kill. There was no malice and they'll find him not guilty," Barnett said.

Larry Rosen, Sheryl Ferguson's brother, spoke with reporters after Tuesday's hearing and said it was "hell" when Ferguson looked at him in the courtroom.

"My sister was a wonderful person, very caring, very selfless," Rosen said. "The family is absolutely in shock."

According to the Orange County district attorney's office, Ferguson texted his court clerk and bailiff after the murder to say he had shot her.

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A court filing says Ferguson 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."

The court document alleges he threatened his wife earlier that evening by making a hand gesture that looked like he was pointing a gun at her. The document also says their adult son called 911 and said his father had been drinking too much and shot his mom.

Jeffrey Ferguson also called 911 to vaguely report the shooting. When asked if he shot his wife, he said he didn't want to talk about it at that time and she needed paramedics.

When officers arrived, Ferguson smelled of alcohol and told them, "Oh man I can't believe I did this," according to the document.

During the investigation at the scene, police served a search warrant and recovered 47 weapons -- including rifles, shotguns, and handguns -- and more than 26,000 rounds of ammunition. A .22 rifle legally registered to Ferguson remains unaccounted for, according to the Orange County district attorney's office. The defense argued that and said all weapons are accounted for.

Anaheim Hills
An investigator removes firearms from a home on East Canyon Vista Drive in Anaheim Hills on Friday, Aug. 4, 2023.
Photo by Paul Bersebach, Orange County Register/SCNG

Another court hearing was 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.

Because of Ferguson's occupation, and his personal and professional relationships with other judges in the Orange County court system, the case was moved to Los Angeles.

"In terms of getting a fair trial, wherever he goes, he's going to be judged based on two things: the facts of the case and that he's a judge," said attorney Lou Shapiro. "Judges are always held to a higher standard because that's just what's expected from them in society. The fact that a judge is charged with such a heinous crime, it's going to make it that much more difficult for him to go to trial in such a case."

Because the case could be complex and difficult, Shapiro believes if it does go to trial, it likely won't be for two to three years.

City News Service and the Associated Press contributed to this report.