EL CAJON, CALIFORNIA – A sheriff’s deputy finally pleaded guilty yesterday – on his third try –to voluntary manslaughter for fatally shooting his wife in the jaw.
Deputy Lowell “Sam” Bryan Bruce wanted the deal offered by prosecutors, under which he would serve 15 years in prison. But El Cajon Superior Court Judge Allan J. Preckel wouldn’t go for it.
“This court will not endorse or become a party to any such agreement,” Preckel said.
Preckel said Bruce could either go to trial or plead guilty in an open-ended agreement under which he could be sentenced to prison for as little as six years or as long as 21 years.
After conferring with his lawyers, Bruce, 40, agreed to plead guilty to a charge of voluntary manslaughter with a firearm in the Dec. 14 slaying of Kristen Maxwell-Bruce, 38, in the Alpine home they shared with their two children and Maxwell-Bruce’s parents and grandfather. He will be sentenced Oct. 24.
“I shot . . . my wife which resulted in her death,” Bruce wrote in the plea agreement, which Preckel read in court. Bruce wrote that he “acted in passion” without malice or forethought.
Bruce was originally charged with murder and faced a maximum prison sentence of 40 years to life if tried and convicted.
The charge was reduced last week to voluntary manslaughter by Deputy District Attorney William Gentry.
Preckel said he had no control over the charges filed against Bruce but that the case was particularly egregious because Bruce shot his wife in front of their 4-year-old son.
“The charging decision rests in the sound discretion of the prosecutors,” Preckel said.
In a hearing last week, the judge indicated he would accept a 15-year ceiling on Bruce’s prison term. But he said yesterday he had a “sea change” in his thinking after reviewing the case.
Bruce’s lawyers, Henry Coker and Stewart Dadmun of the county Public Defender’s Office, complained in court that Preckel was being unusually harsh on Bruce because of his position in law enforcement. They asked that Preckel recuse himself from the case, but the judge refused.
“We don’t understand why this case is being treated differently,” Dadmun told the judge. “I don’t want to see my client treated worse because he’s a deputy sheriff.”
Until he was suspended after the shooting, Bruce worked in detentions and court services and was assigned to the Las Colinas women’s jail in Santee.
Bruce’s lawyers asked to meet with Preckel in his chambers to discuss the case, but Preckel said he wanted everything done in open court, in public view.
In July, Judge Herbert J. Exarhos refused to accept the plea agreement, saying it appeared Bruce was receiving preferential treatment because of his job with the sheriff’s department. Exarhos said the disparity was too great between the 15-year term prosecutors were offering Bruce and the 40-year to life sentence he was facing when he was still charged with murder.
Prosecutor Gentry said outside the courtroom that he reduced the charge to voluntary manslaughter after reviewing the evidence because the shooting happened during a heated argument. A murder charge would require proof that Bruce had planned to shoot his wife, the prosecutor said.
At an Aug. 7 hearing, Preckel delayed ruling on the proposed plea agreement to allow Maxwell-Bruce’s parents to be present. The parents called the judge during a break in the hearing to express their opposition to the plea agreement.
The parents, Jim and Kay Maxwell, filed a legal claim in June against the Sheriff’s Department and others seeking an unspecified amount of money. The claim, a prelude to filing a lawsuit, said the behavior of deputies and paramedics responding to the shooting contributed to their daughter’s death.
Note: Can someone please tell me why a veteran cop get the taxpayers to pay for his public defender? The last time I asked Judge Exarhos for just a few thousand dollars to assist the defense of a 72-year-old innocent, elderly, and jailed client, he refused the request.
Didn't this cop make more than $50,000 to $70,000 per year, for 15-20 years, before he executed his wife? And we are paying for this expensive defense, while innocent clients are denied assistance?
The "righteous indignation" of these judges is quite transparant. It's all political.
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