An Orange County Superior Court judge pleaded not guilty in a Los Angeles courtroom on Tuesday, Aug. 15, to a charge of murdering his wife in their Anaheim Hills house.
Judge Jeffrey Ferguson made his plea through his attorneys before Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Ricardo Ocampo, who granted Orange County prosecutors’ requests that Ferguson wear a GPS monitoring device, stay away from alcohol and submit to searches as conditions of his $1 million bail.
Ocampo rejected a request by prosecutors for Ferguson to not have any contact with his 22-year-old son, who authorities say witnessed the killing. Ocampo said such contact was up to the son.
Wearing a gray suit, white shirt and a blue tie, Ferguson sat quietly at the back of the courtroom until his case was called. He said little until asked by Ocampo if he understood the new conditions of his bail.
“Yes, I do, your honor,” Ferguson said.
After the brief arraignment, Ferguson’s attorneys Paul Meyer and John Barnett called the shooting “accidental” and “unintentional.”
“We are confident that when a jury from Orange County hears these facts they will agree with us, this was an unintentional discharge of a firearm,” said Barnett, standing before a bank of cameras outside the justice center. “There was no intent to kill, no malice and they will find him not guilty.”
A tentative date for the preliminary hearing was set for Oct. 30 in Los Angeles.
Ferguson, 72, was arrested Aug. 3 shortly after fatally shooting his wife, Sheryl, at their Anaheim Hills home with a Glock 40-caliber pistol that he pulled from his ankle holster, authorities say. Prosecutors allege the couple had been arguing that night and Ferguson had earlier pointed a finger at her, mimicking a gun.
Moments before the shooting, according to documents filed by prosecutors, Sheryl Ferguson told the judge, “Why don’t you point a real gun at me?”
Jeffrey Ferguson is accused of firing one shot at close range, hitting his 65-year-old wife in the chest. The couple’s adult son witnessed the shooting and attempted CPR on his mother, authorities say, before calling 911. Prosecutors said Ferguson texted his Fullerton court staff: “I just lost it. I just shot my wife. I won’t be in tomorrow. I will be in custody. I’m so sorry.”
After Anaheim police arrived, Ferguson, smelling of alcohol and still wearing his now-empty ankle holster, told officers: “What the (expletive) did I … well, I guess I’m done for a while… Oh my God. … My son. … My son. … (Expletive) me. … What an (expletive) I am, Jesus Christ. I’m sorry. … I (expletive) up. … Oh man, I can’t believe I did this,” prosecutors say.
After spending a night in jail, Ferguson was released on $1 million bail. Ferguson has no criminal record.
Orange County Superior Court Judge Jeffrey Ferguson. (Courtesy of the Anaheim Police Department)
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While searching the Ferguson’s two-story house, investigators seized 47 legal firearms and more than 26,000 rounds of ammunition, including what they believe is the murder weapon, police said. A single, spent .40 casing was found near a couch.
Around seven hours after the shooting, a blood sample taken from Ferguson showed the judge had a blood-alcohol level of 0.06 percent, according to prosecutors. The limit by which an individual is considered too intoxicated to drive is 0.08 percent.
The son told investigators that he had never previously witnessed domestic violence between his parents but had seen many arguments, prosecutors say, with the son adding his father “tends to be more heated when he drinks.”
The son also told investigators about two previous incidents involving his father and firearms, prosecutors wrote, both of which his mother had reportedly told him about: Several years prior, the judge placed a gun to his head, and his wife “talked him out of suicide,” prosecutors wrote. On another occasion, the judge fired a gun while alone in a bathroom at the home, which the son believed was an “accidental discharge.”
Ferguson was a longtime prosecutor with the Orange County District Attorney’s Office before he was elected as a judge in 2015.