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Defense Signals Possible Defense in Case of Air Force Sergeant Who Allegedly Ambushed Deputies


Steven Carrillo

Authorities in Santa Cruz County, California say Steven Carrillo was the man who ambushed deputies in an attack on June 6. Now he’s charged with murdering sheriff’s Sergeant Damon Gutzwiller. What routes does the defense have? His lawyer said Friday that the defendant has suffered a traumatic brain injury that wasn’t related to his service in the Air Force, and he recently experienced a loss in the family.

“I’m not aware what impact these things may have on the case, I’m simply pointing out that there are more colors to Mr. Carrillo and what his possible motivation and what his involvement is,” said his attorney Jeffrey Stotter, according to KGO.

So, to be clear, a specific argued has yet to take shape. It’s worth mentioning that insanity defenses are heavily delineated when they’re allowed in the guilt phases of trial. Here’s an example from California:

The defendant was legally insane if:

1. When (he/she) committed the crime[s], (he/she) had a mental disease or defect;


2. Because of that disease or defect, (he/she) was incapable of knowing or understanding the nature and quality of (his/her) act or was incapable of knowing or understanding that (his/her) act was morally or legally wrong.

In other words, it’s not enough to merely suffer a psychological malady.  Nonetheless, it’s not unheard of for attorneys to present their clients’ personal troubles and possible mental problems during penalty phases. That includes histories of brain damage.

In regard to the Carrillo case, it’s definitely something to think about since prosecutors have yet to determine if they’re pursing the death penalty. Even so, it would be a symbolic gesture if they do seek to end his life, because there’s been a moratorium on capital punishment in California since March 2019, and the state hadn’t even used the punishment since 2006.

The defendant’s wife Monika Carrillo, who also served in the Air Force, died by suicide in 2018. Her great-aunt verbally chewed up the defendant in a recent interview, blaming him for the death.

“He did a lot of damage to our family just by destroying my niece,” Charlotte Tolliver-Lopes told the Bay Area News Group, according to The Santa Cruz Sentinel. “It devastated my family.”

Tolliver-Lopes essentially called the defendant a coward, saying the alleged ambush was in character for him.

“Sneak up behind you — that’s the way he would behave,” she said. “I don’t think he has the guts to face you. He’s the type who would do it around the corner. He wouldn’t confront anyone dead on — a woman, yeah, he feels superior to them, but a man, no.”

Santz Cruz County Attorney Jeff Rosell describes a lot of intent in what the defendant allegedly did.

“The initial ambush of the officers was just that, an ambush,” he said. “This individual then waited, other officers arrived at the scene, ambushed them by shooting at them, and literally came up behind their car and ambushed them and tried to murder both of those individuals.”

Deputies previously said they first looked into Carrillo’s white van when someone reported the vehicle contained guns and explosive devices. Neighbors are credited with helping apprehend the defendant.

Carrillo allegedly wrote “boog”–a short-hand for a far-right slang that fantasizes a new civil war–in blood on the hood of a car. Reports indicted that he wrote posts critical of law enforcement in his now-deleted Facebook account.

[Image via Santz Cruz County Sheriff’s Office]

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