A preliminary hearing Wednesday in the case of two attempted murders was found to have enough evidence for the case to begin pretrial proceedings.
The hearing for Austin Schwartzler began in Department 7, but Judge Douglas C. Phimister, who had other preliminary hearings, told defense attorney Adam Weiner and deputy district attorney Lisette Suder that Judge Daniel B. Proud in Department 2 had an opening and it would be faster to be transferred there.
Less than an hour later, the hearing continued in Proud’s courtroom, with Suder calling Jerry Stinson to the stand.
Stinson knew Schwartzler for about two or three years, he testified, and met him through his current girlfriend, Kathleen Owens. He and Owens had been dating since June 2012, and had endeavored to keep the relationship a secret from Schwartzler, Owens’ ex-boyfriend.
“We were keeping the relationship on the down low … She made the request,” Owens said, because “her ex said he would kill anyone he saw her with, as far as a male companion.”
Stinson and Owens were at her father’s house on Wild Lilac Drive in El Dorado on Aug. 12, 2012. Both were sleeping in a twin bed in Owens’ room at 12:23 a.m. when Stinson was awakened by someone whispering Owens’ name. He sat up, he said, and looked out the window next to the bed — blinds were covering two-thirds of the window, and tilted down, but he could still see out the slightly-opened window.
Stinson answered “‘What?’ Like what’s going on,” he testified. He saw Schwartzler standing outside the window. They made eye contact, Stinson said, and Schwartzler began screaming obscenities — Schwartzler’s friend was now dating his ex-girlfriend. He became “louder and more threatening,” Stinson said.
Stinson pushed the just-waking-up Owens towards the door and began moving to the next room, where Owens’ father, Daniel, and a phone were. As he was going through the doorway out of Kathleen’s room, he heard glass breaking and a gunshot. He felt debris “spraying on my head.” He testified on cross-examination that it was “as if I threw sand or sawdust at you,” he told Weiner. Later, he found the bullet hole in the wall inches from where his head was. He crouched down and kept moving, hearing more gunshots, though more muted. “More gunshots came. Everything was happening so quickly.” Owens, meanwhile, was screaming, “Austin, no.”
Weiner took over questioning, starting with how Stinson knew Schwartzler. He and his ex-girlfriend had dinner with Schwartzler and Owens a few times, he said, going over to the other couple’s house. Owens and Stinson worked together at a hardware store, and Schwartzler visited Owens at work.
After discussing the dimensions of the window, Stinson went back to the whisper of Owens’ name, saying it was a “loud whisper. It was meant to wake.”
After the first gunshot, Stinson went back in to the room, grabbed Owens and dragged her out of the room. He yelled at Dan Owens, he said, when he heard the rapid gunfire.
Though Dan kept a porch light on all day, Stinson said, he saw no gun. He had earlier mentioned that his presence should not have been a surprise to Schwartzler — Stinson’s truck was parked under the porch light in the roundabout driveway. Stinson didn’t hear Schwartzler’s truck, which he described as a “big Dodge truck” that was lifted and had large tires, with an “extremely loud” exhaust system.
Stinson was excused and Deputy Seth Culver of the El Dorado County Sheriff’s Office was called.
Culver was the responding deputy to the call and began by interviewing Kathleen. She dated Schwartzler for six years, he testified, and told Culver that Schwartzler made threats of suicide and threats against anyone she dated “numerous times,” Culver said.
During a search of the area, Culver found a spent shell casing between the bed rail and the window, with broken glass on the floor, window sill and bed. The distance from the window to the casing was between 12 and 18 inches, he testified. In the door jamb of the room, he found a bullet hole, just below where the ceiling meets the wall.
Under questioning from Weiner, Culver noted that Owens identified the voice of Schwartzler as he was yelling outside. She was on the floor when she heard the gunshot, and never actually saw Schwartzler — only heard his voice.
Culver described the area outside the window as “dim,” with only a single porch light, and that the window itself was 74 inches off the ground.
Only a single shell casing and slug were found during the search, with no other evidence of other gunshots being fired found. He mentioned that Kathleen was in her father’s room when she heard the other gunshots. The window screen and more broken glass were found outside the window.
Final questions from Suder revealed that Owens was surprised that Schwartzler had a gun. She told Culver that her ex-boyfriend did not carry a gun and had only seen him handle one while doing target-shooting.
After Culver was excused both sides rested their case for the preliminary. Weiner did, however, attempt to have the second charge against Schwartzler, the attempted murder of Kathleen Owens, dismissed. Both Stinson’s and Culver’s testimony, he said, showed that Schwartzler had not seen Owens at all, only Stinson. Only a single shot was taken in their direction. “There was no evidence of any bullet,” Weiner said, “directed toward Ms. Kathleen Owens.”
The bullet doesn’t need to directed at Owens, Suder argued, as it traveled in the direction of her window, and he had called her name, expecting her to be in her room, when he shot.
Weiner made the counter-argument that the charge required specific intent, even at the preliminary stage, and that there was no specific intent to kill Owens.
Despite Weiner’s arguments, Proud proceeded forward with both charges, as well as two other charges named in the complaint — burglary, from breaking the window, reaching inside and firing the gun; and discharging a firearm at an inhabited residence.
An arraignment on information hearing was set for April 19 at 8:30 a.m. in Department 2.
Contact Cole Mayer at 530-344-5068 or [email protected] Follow @CMayerMtDemo.