Hearing begins for Scarber family accused of helping son escape to Mexico

Attorney Marshall Hodgkins, left, talks to Kyle Scarber, as Gail Scarber stands in between them outside court in 2013 . Kyle and Gail Scarber and Gail’s daughter Crystal Reynoso, second from right, are on trial for allegedly helping Spencer Scarber cross into Mexico.
Attorney Marshall Hodgkins, left, talks to Kyle Scarber, as Gail Scarber stands in between them outside court in 2013 . Kyle and Gail Scarber and Gail’s daughter Crystal Reynoso, second from right, are on trial for allegedly helping Spencer Scarber cross into Mexico. Fresno Bee Staff Photo

A beanie cap. Bent crutches with what looked to be blood. A knife on the shoulder of the roadway.

Back in December 2012, Fresno County sheriff’s deputies didn’t know what they were investigating outside Spencer Scarber’s home in Squaw Valley.

They wondered whether he had been kidnapped just as he was about to testify in his rape trial.

In February 2013, Scarber was captured in Mexico after he dyed his hair, grew a goatee, used fake identification and disguised himself. He was then brought back to Fresno and sentenced to 35 years to life in prison.

Three years later, his father, Kyle Scarber, 52 and once a high-ranking California Highway Patrol official, and his mother, Gail Scarber, 54, and sister, Crystal Reynoso, 36, appeared in a Fresno courtroom Wednesday for their long-delayed preliminary hearing on felony charges that they helped Spencer Scarber flee to Mexico to avoid being convicted.

A criminal complaint filed in Fresno County Superior Court charges them with being felony accessories. They also face felony counts of conspiracy and aiding in Spencer Scarber’s failure to appear in court for his rape trial that ended with him being convicted in absentia.

Gail Scarber faces additional felony charges of forgery for allegedly manufacturing a false birth certificate for her son and forging a seal of the Orange County Clerk-Recorder’s Office.

In addition, Kyle Scarber, who says he retired as an CHP assistant chief, is charged with filing a false police report, a misdemeanor, for reporting his son missing after the family’s car reportedly crossed into Mexico.

The Scarbers and Reynoso have pleaded not guilty. In past court appearances, they have said Spencer Scarber didn’t get a fair trial and that local law enforcement is out to get them.

The rape case dates back to July 2011, when sheriff’s detectives said Spencer Scarber broke into a neighbor’s house and raped a 35-year-old woman. His DNA, which was later found on the victim, and his confession to detectives were the primary evidence against him.

His case was proceeding until he vanished on the day he was to testify in his own defense. On Dec. 14, 2012, a jury deliberated two hours before convicting him in absentia of five felony charges of rape, burglary and robbery.

Now, the preliminary hearing, which will resume Thursday, will determine whether there is enough evidence for Superior Court Judge W. Kent Hamlin to order the Scarbers and Reynoso to stand trial. They have been free on bail.

On Wednesday, the defendants sat at the defense table with their lawyers as prosecutor Heather Gimle, a deputy attorney general, presented the evidence.

Sheriff’s Detective Sergio Toscano testified that he was dispatched to the Scarbers’ home on George Smith Road in the morning of Dec. 12, 2012. He testified he was initially investigating either a missing person’s case or a possible kidnapping.

Toscano said Kyle Scarber told him that his wife had left for Southern California because she was upset with the way the trial was going.

Toscano also testified that Kyle Scarber told him Spencer Scarber was recovering from knee surgery and preparing for his testimony. “He said everything was fine with no issues,” Toscano said.

The detective said Kyle Scarber told him that he last saw his son around 1:30 a.m. Dec. 12, 2012. When he awoke in the morning, Spencer Scarber was missing from the home, Kyle Scarber told the detective.

Sheriff’s Detective Donna Davis said when she arrived at the Scarber home, she had concerns about the crime scene. On the driveway was Spencer Scarber’s beanie, crutches, one tennis shoe, a cigarette butt and Kyle Scarber’s black metal flashlight. Davis said she saw blood drops on the crutches.

“I thought if it was kidnapping I would have seen more blood,” Davis testified. “The blood appeared to be poured.”

She also said she didn’t see signs of a struggle other than a bent crutch.

She became more suspicious when Kyle Scarber reported finding a knife on the shoulder of George Smith Road.

And in Spencer Scarber’s room, Davis said, there was a printout of a Google map that had the typewritten words: Brandon Smith, his date of birth and Odessa, Texas.

Toscano said Kyle Scarber mentioned that he had family in Texas. Toscano also testified that the father told him that he believed his son was kidnapped and “had a theory of who might be involved.”

The kidnapping scheme unraveled when sheriff detectives with search warrants discovered passport photographs of Spencer Scarber in his father’s truck. They also found in the truck climate information for Oaxaca, Mexico, and the name “Brandon Smith” on a post-it note.

Toscano testified the big break came when a man who knew the Scarbers called him and said Gail Scarber gave him documents to destroy. Instead of destroying the paperwork, the man gave the documents to Toscano, the detective testified. Among the documents, Toscano said, was a phony birth certificate from Orange County for Brandon Smith.

After the detectives testified, Gimle introduced evidence from the Department of Homeland Security that showed that a car registered to Kyle and Gail Scarber entered Mexico at the San Ysidro border crossing on the morning of Dec. 12, 2012. Gail Scarber and Reynoso later that morning walked into the United States at San Ysidro, the documents say.

Pablo Lopez: 559-441-6434, @beecourts