Fugitive rapist Spencer Scarber faked own kidnapping to protect parents, court told

Attorney Marshall Hodgkins, left, talks to Kyle Scarber, as Gail Scarber stands in between them in the hallway outside of court.Their daughter Crystal Reynoso is shown following in this 2013 photo. The three are on trial for helping their son flee from justice during his rape case.
Attorney Marshall Hodgkins, left, talks to Kyle Scarber, as Gail Scarber stands in between them in the hallway outside of court.Their daughter Crystal Reynoso is shown following in this 2013 photo. The three are on trial for helping their son flee from justice during his rape case. Fresno Bee Staff Photo

Hoping to deflect attention from his family, Spencer Scarber said he staged a crime scene outside his parents’ Squaw Valley home to make it look as if he had been kidnapped, and then hitchhiked to Mexico to avoid his rape trial, a retired law enforcement official testified Thursday.

Spencer Scarber, however, was evasive in his account, said Chris Sahagun, a retired California Highway Patrol sergeant, who interviewed the fugitive after he was captured in Mexico in February 2013 after spending two months on the run. Spencer Scarber was later sentenced to 35 years to life in prison after being convicted of rape and other charges.

In Fresno Superior Court, Sahagun said Spencer Scarber didn’t know all of the evidence of the purported kidnapping that was found on the driveway of the home.

Sahagun also said Spencer Scarber said he had left Squaw Valley around 3:30 a.m. Dec. 12, 2012, for his trip to Mexico. But Homeland Security records show a car belonging to his parents entered Mexico at 3:24 a.m. that day. About 80 minutes later, Spencer Scarber’s mother, Gail Scarber, and sister, Crystal Reynoso, walked out of Mexico and into the United States at the San Ysidro crossing, the records show.

Sahagun said one of Gail Scarber’s other daughters has admitted that she picked up the pair later that morning in San Ysidro.

Three years after Spencer Scarber was captured in Mexico, his father, Kyle Scarber, once a high-ranking CHP official, his mother and Reynoso are in court for a preliminary hearing that will determine whether they should face felony charges in connection with his escape to Mexico to avoid prosecution.

A criminal complaint accuses them with felony charges of being accessories and conspiring and aiding in Spencer Scarber’s failure to appear in court for his rape trial. It 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 Recorder’s Office.

In addition, Kyle Scarber, a retired 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 didn’t get a fair trial and that local law enforcement is out to get them.

The California Attorney General’s Office is prosecuting the Scarbers and Reynoso because Kyle Scarber said he was once romantically involved with former Fresno County District Attorney Elizabeth Egan.

On Thursday, the second day of the preliminary hearing, prosecutors Heather Gimle, Michael Canzoneri and David Lowe continued their attack on the defendants’ claim that they are not guilty of the charges. Their key witness was Sahagun, who testified that he questioned Spencer Scarber even after he asked for an attorney, but never was given one.

Sahagun said Spencer Scarber told him that on the day he left Squaw Valley, he had smoked marijuana and taken the anxiety medicine Xanax and the pain reliever Norco. He said it took him about two days of hitchhiking to reach the Mexican border, the detective testified.

Asked about his family’s involvement, Spencer Scarber flatly denied that his mother and sister took him to Mexico, Sahagun testified. But he admitted that while on the run he had read news reports on his cellphone that said his mother and sister had been in Mexico. Asked why they would go there, Sahagun said Spencer Scarber told him: “Maybe to go drinking. It’s TJ.” TJ refers to Tijuana.

While a fugitive in Mexico, Spencer Scarber, said he called his mother and talked to her, Sahagun said. Spencer Scarber, however, was evasive about how he stayed in contact with his mother since Gail Scarber’s cellphone had been confiscated by sheriff’s detectives, Sahagun testified.

Spencer Scarber said he concocted the kidnapping scheme to throw suspicion on someone connected to his rape trial, Sahagun said. But he also said he staged the kidnapping so his parents wouldn’t get in trouble or lose their home since they had used it as collateral for bail for him, the detective said.

In Mexico, Spencer Scarber used a fake driver’s license that said “Brandon Smith,” Sahagun said. When Spencer Scarber was captured, he was shown a document with his real name on it, the detective said. According to Sahagun, the wanted man replied: “I guess they got me.”

Danielle Isaac, a senior investigator with the Fresno County District Attorney’s Office, testified she was among several detectives who picked up Spencer Scarber at the airport in Los Angeles after he was deported from Mexico. Among his possession was a fake driver’s license from Texas that said “Brandon Smith” but had Spencer Scarber’s photo, Isaac testified.

Randolph Garcia, a special agent with the National Insurance Crime Bureau, testified that he found the Scarber family car on March 12, 2013, in an impound lot in the city of San Luis Rio Colorado in Sonora, Mexico, which is near the border crossing in Yuma, Ariz..

Inside the white Toyota Avalon was a birth certificate for “Brandon Smith,” he said. There also were papers that belonged to Gail Scarber, Garcia testified.

The car was never reported stolen, he said.

The hearing in Judge W. Kent Hamlin’s courtroom could wrap up Friday.

Pablo Lopez: 559-441-6434, @beecourts