San Bernardino Judge Under Fire After Reducing Bail for 3-Strikes Cop Killer

Riverside County Sheriff’s Deputy Isaiah Cordero will be laid to rest Friday after he was killed by career con Anthony Shea McKay in late December

A San Bernardino judge who delayed sentencing for a three-strikes cop killer and reputed gang associate is under fire from multiple law enforcement groups, which are now demanding her resignation after she reduced the convict’s bail months before he shot a sheriff’s deputy to death days after Christmas.  

Superior Court Judge Cara D. Hutson, who was appointed by former Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, delayed sentencing for now-deceased 44-year-old Anthony Shea McKay, who prosecutors say fostered “a life-long dedication to committing serious crimes” as his attorneys argued that a prior conviction should be stricken from his record because of his age and drug addiction in 1999 when the incident occurred.

After McKay was convicted in November 2021 of his third violent felony on charges that he terrorized a one-time domestic partner, prosecutors argued he should have been remanded without bail as he awaited sentencing. In that incident, McKay was accused of restraining the woman by duct-taping her wrists and ankles for several days and beating her until she escaped and alerted the police, at which point McKay led officers on a high-speed chase that ended with a California Highway Patrol canine being stabbed. In investigating the case, detectives recovered zip ties, duct tape, an ax, and gang paraphernalia.

“The defendant is a significant public safety risk,” prosecutors wrote in part of a motion to Hutson after McKay’s conviction. “He has been institutionalized for most of his life.”

Prosecutors pointed out that McKay was found shortly after the woman’s escape, he fled in a stolen vehicle “evading in the desert for over twenty miles before finally taking off on foot armed with knives.” The injured K-9 dog had to be airlifted for emergency surgery but survived.  After that arrest, McKay engaged in disruptive outbursts even during court appearances, prosecutors said in their argument for high bail, adding that he “has no respect for authority.”

Despite the details prosecutors presented, Hutson reduced McKay’s $950,000 pre-sentencing bail to $500,000. He posted the bond in March to await a July sentencing; that date was delayed by Hutson again and reset for October 2022, said Riverside County District Attorney Jason Anderson. Meanwhile, McKay’s defense attorneys worked to dismiss one of his prior strikes, citing his age and drug addiction and the length of time between his conviction. That defense request, known as a Romero motion, was pending when McKay didn’t show up for his sentencing in October and a bench warrant was issued for his arrest.

“Our office upheld our oath of pursuing justice by prosecuting convicted felon McKay,” Anderson said in a statement after the killing by McKay of a police officer in late December.

Hutson could not be reached by phone at the Rancho Cucamonga Superior Courthouse. 

Longtime defense attorney Lou Shapiro explained to LAMag that Hutson, a former prosecutor, may have rooted her rationale with McKay’s case in recent bail reform legislation and a trend toward sympathy for suspects with drug addiction issues.

“She didn’t give him a get out of jail free card,” Shapiro told LAMag. “She tried to set a bail amount that reflected what she thought correlated with the actions he was convicted for. Still, this is every judge’s worst nightmare.”

On the afternoon of December 29, McKay was a wanted man with an open bench warrant when Riverside County Sheriff’s Deputy Isaiah Cordero pulled over a truck he was driving in what began as a routine traffic stop. In the seconds after Cordero dismounted his motorcycle and approached, McKay whipped out a gun and opened fire, hitting the officer at least four times, police officials said. 

As the 32-year-old sheriff’s deputy lay dying, McKay sped off leading police on a wild high-speed chase involving dozens of police vehicles. The pursuit ended in Norco with McKay shot to death after a fusillade of bullets was exchanged between him and at least 10 law enforcement officers.

“It’s incredibly frustrating for police officers across the country to see a young deputy like Cordero step up and be taken away by a judicial decision that was 100%  preventable. Judge Cara Hutson had a chance to prevent it when he was convicted of his third violent felony,” said Sgt. Betsy Smith, the spokesperson for the National Police Association, a nonprofit that has collected thousands of signatures from around the country urging Hutson to resign. “There is no reason for a man like this to be granted an opportunity to walk the streets given his history of a convicted third-strike felon, and the fact that he knew he was facing life in prison.”

The police pursuit echoed McKay’s many violent offenses, which began in 1999, according to court records. When officers pulled him over on Jan. 9, 1999, he sped off at 100 miles per hour and rammed his car through a CalTrans Work Zone, sending workers scattering. He smashed his vehicle and ran on foot, “with a firearm in his hand,” court records show, “waving it back and forth,” until he finally tossed it to the ground and surrendered.

LAMag has obtained McKay’s history of incarceration from the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, which began after that arrest with a three-year sentence for assault with a firearm and a concurrent sentence of two years for second-degree burglary. He was released on parole in March 2001 after completing his sentence but landed back in prison twice over for parole violations. 

McKay’s second strike came in February 2005, when he burst into the bedroom of a couple sleeping and violently attacked the man and his female companion until they gave up the location of a safe in the house. The female victim told police McKay “smothered her with a pillow, punched her multiple times, and grabbed her by the hair before slamming her head into a desk.” After assaulting the duo, McKay robbed them, the victims told the police.

McKay was soon caught, convicted, and in April 2006, again sent to prison, this time on a 13-year sentence after his guilty plea to charges of robbery and assault as a second-striker. McKay had three years of that sentence reduced, and was released to parole supervision in April 2016 after completing his sentence; he was discharged from parole in May 2019.

Cordero’s colleagues are preparing to bury him Friday morning in a funeral service that will be held at Harvest Christian Fellowship Church.

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