It seemed like a morbid joke, the late-night text prosecutors say Orange County Superior Court Judge Jeffrey Ferguson sent to his court clerk and bailiff:
“I just lost it. I just shot my wife. I won’t be in tomorrow. I will be in custody. I’m so sorry.”
Minutes before the text was sent, prosecutors say, Judge Ferguson pulled a Glock .40 pistol from an ankle holster and fatally shooting his wife, Sheryl, in the chest at close range in front of an adult son.
Slurring his words, smelling of alcohol and still wearing his now empty ankle holster, a prosecution court filing says, the judge made a series of expletive-laden, seemingly remorseful confessional comments to responding officers.
“What the (expletive) did I … well, I guess I’m done for a while,” the judge said to police, according to prosecutors. “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.”
On Friday morning, Aug. 11, Jeffrey Ferguson — a judge assigned to the Fullerton courthouse — was charged with first-degree murder for the Aug. 3 killing of his wife, Sheryl Ferguson. The judge’s attorneys argued the charge was unwarranted, saying the death was a “tragedy for the entire Ferguson family,” and “an accident and nothing more.”
But in a written motion seeking additional bail restrictions on a now-released Ferguson, also submitted to the court on Friday, prosecutors provided a detailed narrative on what they allege occurred the night of the fatal shooting. The filing does not specify who provided prosecutors with much of the first-hand account, though it notes the son was present.
In the prosecutors’ telling, the shooting stemmed from an argument between the judge and his wife that began at a dinner Jeffrey and Sheryl Ferguson had with their son at a restaurant near their home. At one point during the dinner, the judge allegedly “pointed his finger at his wife in a manner mimicking a firearm,” prosecutors wrote.
The argument apparently continued when the three returned to their two-story Anaheim Hills home.
Sheryl Ferguson said something to the effect of, “Why don’t you point a real gun at me?” and Jeffrey Ferguson “retrieved his pistol from his ankle holster and shot the victim center mass,” prosecutors wrote.
The son was the first to call 911, according to prosecutors, telling a dispatcher that “his father was drinking too much, that arguments had ensued between his parents since dinner and that his dad shot his mother.”
Both the son — an Eagle Scout — and officers a short time later reportedly attempted to aid Sheryl Ferguson.
After his son’s 911 call, prosecutors say, Jeffrey Ferguson called 911 to “vaguely” report that his wife had been shot, prosecutors said. When asked by a dispatcher whether he shot his wife, prosecutors say, the judge “responded that he did not want to talk about it now, and, when asked again, responded that his wife needed paramedics.”
Neighbors later recalled a swarm of heavily armed officers taking the 72-year-old judge into custody. As a helicopter hovered overhead, officers yelled at the judge to get down on his knees, neighbors said, at which point they say the judge replied, “No, I’m not gonna get on my knees but I’m unarmed.”
Sheryl Ferguson, 65, was pronounced dead at the scene.
Along with the alleged text to his bailiff and court clerk, and the comments to officers that were recorded on body cameras, prosecutors wrote, the judge “made similar remarks acknowledging culpability” after he was taken to the Anaheim police station.
That night and well into the next day, investigators searched through the Ferguson home.
The suspected “murder weapon” was reportedly among 47 legal firearms collected by investigators at the residence, authorities said.
A single, spent .40 casing “was recovered from the floor immediately in front of the couch where defendant was located when he shot his wife to death,” prosecutors wrote, adding: The bullet struck her in the chest, exited her back and “careened into a wall behind her.”
Orange County Superior Court Judge Jeffrey Ferguson, 72. (Courtesy of Anaheim Police Department)
Prosecutors say the son told investigators that he had never previously witnessed domestic violence between his parents but had seen many arguments. The son added that 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 his house, which the son believed was an “accidental discharge.”
Private investigator C.J. Ford, who has known Ferguson for nearly 30 years, said Friday he was stunned by the charges and the newly released details.
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“I guess he snapped,” Ford said. “I’m very surprised as to the person I know. I didn’t think he would carry it that far.”
Ford said he and Ferguson had planned to get together soon with their wives.
“As long as I’ve known Jeff, he always helped people,” Ford said. “I think I feel more sorry for him than anything else.”
The judge was released on $1 million bail. But now that criminal charges have been filed, prosecutors are seeking additional conditions on his release, including prohibitions on his use of alcohol and weapon possession and an order to stay away from airports.
Prosecutors are arguing the $1 million bail alone is “insufficient to protect public safety and ensure defendant’s appearance at trial.”
Ferguson has no criminal record and has lived in Orange County for decades. But prosecutors wrote:
“If convicted of murder, defendant — at best — is facing a life sentence where he will not see a parole board until at least 82 and — at worst — will not see a parole board prior to death.”
As a judge, prosecutors wrote, Ferguson is aware of the “realistic prospect that he will die in prison if convicted.”