'Just shoot me': Orange County judge was distraught after killing wife, witnesses say

Orange County Superior Court Judge Jeffrey Ferguson, right, sits next to his attorneys John Drummond Barnett, left, and Paul Meyer during a hearing at the Clara Shortridge Foltz Criminal Justice Center, Tuesday, Aug. 15, 2023, in Los Angeles. The Southern California judge, Ferguson, charged with killing his wife during an argument while he was drunk, pleaded not guilty Tuesday, and his lawyer says it was an "accidental shooting." (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes, Pool)
Orange County Superior Court Judge Jeffrey Ferguson, seated at right, attends a hearing with his lawyers last year. He was ordered Thursday to stand trial after witnesses testified at a preliminary hearing that he fatally shot his wife after they argued about money. (Damian Dovarganes / Associated Press)

Dispatched to a shooting at the Anaheim home of an Orange County judge, police found Jeffrey Ferguson sitting on a planter.

"Just shoot me," Ferguson told the officer who approached with a less-than-lethal shotgun trained on the judge.

Witnesses recounted the scene at Ferguson's home at a preliminary hearing Thursday, where a judge ruled there was probable cause to believe that Ferguson had murdered his wife, Sheryl, after they bickered over money at dinner in August.

The Fergusons' 22-year-old son, Phillip, called 911 around 8 p.m. Aug. 3 to report that his father had just shot his mother, Anaheim police officers testified at the hearing.

Read more: Orange County judge charged with drunkenly shooting wife pleads not guilty

Standing in handcuffs outside his home that evening while officers tried to revive his wife inside, Ferguson let off a string of expletives before saying, "What did I do? My son will hate me forever," Officer Joshua Juntilla of the Anaheim Police Department testified.

"Can you have my son come over here and punch me in the face?" the officer said Ferguson asked. "I deserve it. I got everything I got coming."

Crying, his breath smelling of alcohol, Ferguson apologized to his son, who had witnessed the homicide, and asked whether his wife was dead, Juntilla testified. The officer recalled Ferguson saying he was just like the criminals he once prosecuted as an Orange County deputy district attorney.

Inside the Fergusons' home, police found Sheryl lying face up near a sliding glass door, shot once in the abdomen. A Glock handgun was on the kitchen's tile floor. In the cluttered family room was an overturned leather chair, a bullet lodged in the back of it with blood around the entry point. A single cartridge casing lay on the carpet.

Anaheim Police Det. Michael Nguyen interviewed Phillip that night at the police station. He wore pajama bottoms, a T-shirt and no shoes; his hands were coated in dried blood from trying to revive his mother, Nguyen said.

According to the detective, earlier that evening Phillip had gone with his father and mother to dinner at El Cholo, where his parents resumed their perennial argument about money. His father had made his hand into the shape of a gun and pointed it at his mother, who walked out of the restaurant, the younger Ferguson told investigators. The three of them then returned home and watched "Breaking Bad" together in the family room, as they did every night.

After the episode ended, his mother started arguing again about money. Phillip got up to leave. As he reached the rear sliding door, he heard his mother say, "Why don't you point a real gun at me?"

Phillip turned and saw his father holding the .40-caliber Glock he always carried in an ankle holster. Without saying a word, his father shot his mother, he said. Phillip jumped over a couch and wrestled the gun from his father, thinking he might use it to kill himself, he told police. Ferguson then told Phillip to call 911.

Read more: Reputed godfather of the Orange County underworld says he's victim of 'character assassination'

Phillip said his parents had fought often about the family's finances, but the arguments had never before turned physical. He believed Ferguson may have shot his mother in a drunken accident, noting his father had fired a bullet several years earlier through the tile floor of a bathroom. Police seized 47 guns and more than 26,000 rounds of ammunition from the home, prosecutors said at the time of the judge's arrest.

At the end of Thursday's hearing, Ferguson's attorney T. Edward Welbourn asked Superior Court Judge Eleanor Hunter to dismiss the murder charge, noting his client's son — the only eyewitness to the homicide — said he believed it was an accident.

Hunter disagreed. "While I appreciate the son's opinion that this was accidental — bless his heart — he's in a horrible position," she said. Hunter said the evidence showed that Ferguson understood the danger inherent in pointing a gun at another person.

Hunter, who heard the case in Los Angeles due to the conflicts posed by Ferguson's ties to the bench in Orange County, ruled she'd seen enough evidence for Ferguson to stand trial for murder.

Ferguson remains free on $1-million bail with GPS and alcohol monitoring restrictions.

Sign up for Essential California for news, features and recommendations from the L.A. Times and beyond in your inbox six days a week.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.