Several hours after Colleen Barga-Milbury was shot to death, her 16-year-old son arrived home from school and discovered his mother’s lifeless body near the front door, a prosecutor told a jury Tuesday.
Two days later, the prosecutor said, a 3½-foot nutcracker doll, which had been given to the teen the previous Christmas, would become crucial evidence tying neighbor Mark Andrews to the crime.
Andrews, 51, is charged with murder in the May 22, 2013, killing and has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity. If a jury finds him guilty of committing the crime, a second phase of the trial will be held to determine whether he was legally sane when it was committed.
Investigators say Barga-Milbury was shot twice — once in the hip and again in the head — in the entryway of her Atascadero home. According to a timeline established Tuesday, she was shot between 10 a.m. and noon.
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Later that afternoon, she was supposed to pick up her son from Atascadero High School. But when his mother didn’t arrive, Robert Barga got a ride from his girlfriend’s grandfather, Russell Moore. Barga and his girlfriend were the first to discover Barga-Milbury, who lay lifeless on her left side.
“(Robert) was talking to his mother, calling, ‘Wake up, Mom. Wake up,” Moore told the jury.
Wayne Drew, who said he dated Barga-Milbury for 13 years, testified that when the two began dating, Barga-Milbury made clear that her son was a priority in her life.
“If I was to love her, I was to love him,” Drew testified.
Drew said the boy — who now lives with relatives — collected nutcracker figurines, and he had given several to the teen as gifts. Nicholas Coughlin, a detective with the Atascadero Police Department, testified that there were several nutcrackers in the victim’s home.
Investigators began focusing on Andrews after receiving a tip about his mental health issues. In 2009, Andrews told police he had schizophrenia.
When investigators searched Andrews’ bedroom, Deputy District Attorney Matt Kraut told jurors in his opening statement, they found a nutcracker. When Kraut presented that 42-inch nutcracker to Drew in court, the witness said he recognized it.
“I purchased that at CVS in Atascadero,” he said.
That wasn’t the only evidence linking Andrews to the crime, Kraut said. Investigators also found spent ammunition at the crime scene that matched ammunition found in Andrews’ bedroom, Kraut said. A lever-action .30-30 rifle found in the same room produced bullet markings similar to markings found on bullets at the crime scene, Kraut said.
A videotaped confession Andrews gave to detectives was deemed inadmissible Monday. But, Kraut said, he will introduce an audio recording of an incriminating conversation Andrews had with his mother on May 25, 2013.
“You will hear the defendant say he just wants to plead guilty, be executed and die,” Kraut told jurors.
The insanity trial has several connections to Atascadero State Hospital, which treats mentally ill criminals. Barga-Milbury had worked there as a food services supervisor. Drew worked at the transportation department there, and Andrews’ father had been a psychiatric technician at the hospital.
Barga-Milbury was a popular person at her work, Drew said.
“They absolutely loved her,” he said.
“She was the most generous, kind person I’ve ever had the privilege of knowing.”