A 59-year-old Fresno resident was ordered Thursday to stand trial on murder charges in the shooting death of his daughter-in-law, even as his attorney suggested it was done to protect his granddaughter.
The preliminary hearing for James Herren lasted only 30 minutes and featured just three witnesses, but much of what the defense might argue in a future trial came during the testimony of the first witness -- Fresno police officer Derik Kumagai.
Herren is charged with the fatal shooting of Chai Xiong, a juvenile correctional officer for Fresno County. She died Aug. 29 after she was shot in the upper torso inside her northeast Fresno home.
But defense attorney Roberto Dulce said it was involuntary manslaughter, not murder. He asked Fresno County Superior Court Judge Carlos Cabrera to change the charge against Herren, but the judge denied the request.
Late last month, Kumagai responded to the scene of the shooting. It was an area he knew well: He grew up there and had long known Herren and his two sons, he testified.
According to police reports, Herren held officers at bay for an hour and a half before his arrest.
During that time, Kumagai telephoned Herren and had a five-to-10-minute conversation. As they talked, Kumagai testified, Herren said he had problems with Xiong -- his daughter-in-law -- over alleged child-abuse issues.
Herren told Kumagai that he believed Xiong was trying to smother his granddaughter with a blanket, so he got a gun and shot her.
Testimony of the other two witnesses -- Fresno police detectives Richard Byrd and Richard Tacadena -- was brief. Byrd testified about Xiong's autopsy and Tacadena about finding the woman's body in the home's garage, covered in a blanket.
But with a preliminary hearing, only probable cause must be established, and prosecutor Blake Gunderson only offered a peek at his case.
When asked about the abuse allegations after the hearing, he would only say it was "something that we're investigating." He did say the child had been "seen by professionals," but declined to reveal what they found. That would come out at the trial, he said.
Dulce declined to comment after the hearing, as did members of Xiong's family.