Attorneys on Tuesday argued in Placer Superior Court over the July escape of a man who faces charges of murder and attempted murder in a standoff earlier this year with law enforcement at a Roseville park, and whether the criminal cases for the escape and standoff should be combined.
A judge ultimately ruled to combine them, and also granted the filing of two new attempted murder charges to the defendant’s case, with prosecutors alleging Eric James Abril fired shots at two more law enforcement officers than had previously been reported.
Abril, a 35-year-old Roseville resident, is accused of taking two hostages during a shootout with police after California Highway Patrol officers tried to serve a search warrant April 6 at Mahany Park. He was taken into custody shortly after the shootout at the park, during which he allegedly shot both hostages, one of whom died.
Abril also faces an additional felony charge of escaping from law enforcement custody. Abril had been in Placer County Sheriff’s Office custody until July 9, when he escaped from Sutter Roseville Medical Center.
Sheriff’s officials said he was being guarded by a deputy but managed “to defeat his restraints” and slip out of the hospital shortly after 3 a.m. while the deputy was on a bathroom break. Abril was captured after a 33-hour manhunt.
On Tuesday morning, the Placer County District Attorney’s Office asked the court to combine Abril’s case in the park shooting with the separate case stemming from his reported escape.
Abril’s attorney, assistant public defender Brandon Bob, “firmly” objected against the prosecution’s request. He argued that the escape charge is not in the same class of crime as the charges in the shooting case.
The defense attorney told the judge that the prosecution only wants to combine the cases so they can use evidence in the escape case to establish “a consciousness of guilt” in the park shooting case. Bob argued that’s a decision to be made in a trial phase, and it’s too early to combine the cases now.
The cases will not have any shared witnesses, Bob said, and it will not create an undue burden on the prosecution to have two preliminary hearings to determine whether the cases have enough evidence to move to trial.
Deputy District Attorney David Tellman said it is appropriate to combine Abril’s cases now, and evidence in each chase will be admissible in the other. He said this can be done at any point before trial, and it’s done all the time in California.
“This is not a controversial proposition,” the prosecutor argued in court. “It would prejudice (the prosecution) to have two preliminary hearings. It would waste the court’s time every time we come to court on two separate cases.”
The judge’s decision
Judge Sharon Lueras granted the prosecution’s request, considering the fact that evidence in each case will be admissible in the other. She also said a consciousness of guilt theory presented by the prosecution will be left for a jury to decide.
Police officials have said Abril shot a CHP officer at the park before he took two hostages and shot them both during the standoff with law enforcement. James MacEgan of Roseville and his wife, Patricia MacEgan, were taken hostage at the park. James MacEgan, 72, died from his injuries. His wife and the CHP officer were wounded by gunfire.
Abril was wounded in an exchange of gunfire with officers, police said. He was hospitalized until the following evening, when he was booked at the Placer County Jail.
Abril is accused of murder in MacEgan’s death along with special allegations of using a 10 mm handgun to kidnap the victim while committing the crime. Prosecutors also have charged Abril with aggravated kidnapping causing bodily harm in holding MacEgan’s wife at gunpoint, along with special allegations of using the handgun in the crime.
The District Attorney’s Office also charged Abril with attempted murder of a peace officer, CHP Officer Matthew Hiatt, with special allegations that Abril used the handgun and was wearing a body armor vest in the crime. He also faces a charge of being a convicted felon in possession of a gun.
New attempted murder charges
Lueras also granted the prosecution’s request to file additional felony charges against Abril stemming from the Mahany Park shootout.
On Tuesday morning, Tellman filed two more counts of attempted murder of a law enforcement officer, alleging that Abril also fired gunshots at two other officers during the April 6 standoff with police.
In a motion filed Aug. 18, Tellman wrote that reports prosecutors have received since the park shooting provide a legal basis to file the additional attempted murder charges against Abril.
It’s unclear what new information was in those reports. Only Hiatt and the woman taken hostage were wounded. No other injuries in the park shooting have been reported.
Prosecutors allege Abril fired the handgun at peace officers Tyson Becker and Leo Smith. The additional attempted murder charges include the same special allegations for using the handgun and body armor vest.
Becker is a Sacramento County deputy probation officer and Smith is a CHP officer, according to compensation records provided by the county and state to Transparent California. Numerous law enforcement officials from agencies in the surrounding area were called to Mahany Park that afternoon to assist, but it’s unclear what roles Becker and Smith played in the park shootout.
The defense attorney on Tuesday entered not guilty pleas to the charges on behalf of his client and denied the special allegations against Abril.
The judge scheduled Abril, who remains in custody at the jail, to return to court Oct. 10 for a status hearing. His preliminary hearing remains scheduled to start Nov. 6.
There was no discussion in court Tuesday on whether combining the cases will delay that start date.