Rarely is a ranking official in the Sheriff’s Department asked for an opinion about a case under trial; less often is a response given for the record.
“My opinion is they’re suicidal. … They’re just hostile, vile people,” said Chief Sheriff’s Deputy Arne Goble.
He was talking about brothers Dennis and Douglas Escobar.
Goble made the comment after an Aug. 12, 1988, courtroom scuffle in which a handcuffed Dennis Escobar grabbed bailiff Robin Weckerly’s pistol and his brother, Douglas Escobar, jumped up to assist.
Dennis Escobar had asked for permission to speak with his court-appointed attorney, Michael Adams. The group exited the courtroom into a hallway.
Escobar grabbed the gun as the bailiff was unlocking the door to a conference room.
The bailiff was able to keep her gun in the holster during the potentially deadly wrestling match, and Dennis Escobar was subdued by the bailiff, his own attorney Mike Adams and other bailiffs.
A 6-foot, 6-inch tall court reporter stood in front of the handcuffed Douglas, who had been seated with other inmates.
“He didn’t try to go any further,” said Bill Quilty.
On April 27, 1988, the brothers had attempted to kill two California Highway Patrol officers.
The incident had happened in the pre-dawn darkness on the shoulder of northbound Highway 101 in sight of today’s Firestone Brewery in Paso Robles.
The brothers were on the run after the murder of a Miami police officer earlier in the year. Douglas Escobar’s frequent courtroom outbursts — including singing, spitting, loud cursing, crying and asking to be shot — caused some to question his sanity, but a separate hearing found him competent to stand trial.
The California jury convicted the brothers of attempted murder of the CHP officers but acquitted on charges of conspiracy to murder a judge.
They were given two consecutive life sentences in California by Judge William Fredman.
This would have made them eligible for parole 14 years after sentencing in March 1989.
The brothers were then transported to Florida, where they were convicted of murder and sentenced to death via the electric chair in 1991.
However, those convictions were overturned when a review of audio tapes revealed that Dennis Escobar had invoked his constitutional right to remain silent.
The revelation badly damaged the case and in a retrial, eight of 12 jurors voted to acquit. Plea deals were reached, and the Miami Herald had stories about each brother’s sentencing on March 20, 2014, and July 16, 2014.
Douglas, then 54, was sentenced to 36 years in prison but under 1988 sentencing rules would likely only serve 12.
Dennis, then 53, was essentially finished with Florida prison time and was likely to be sent back to California.
The Herald story said both brothers could be eligible for parole hearings in California but probably would not win release.
Dennis and Douglas Escobar are currently listed in custody at Folsom Prison via the California Department of Corrections inmate locater.
On Sept. 8, 1988, Telegram-Tribune reporter Dan Parker reported the first public testimony of the CHP officers:
Officers detail Escobars’ actions in April incident
Shot and wounded, two brothers continued to attack, California Highway Patrol officers testified Wednesday.
Officers Grant Kell and Ray Koenig on Wednesday gave their first public description of the April 27 shootout in Paso Robles.
The officers testified during a preliminary hearing for Douglas and Dennis Escobar, who are charged with attempted murder in the incident.
Kell described how he and Koenig pulled over the brothers about 3 a.m. on Highway 101 because they suspected driver Dennis Escobar was drunk.
Douglas Escobar got out of the car, spun and pointed a gun at Koenig, Kell testified. But Escobar’s gun jammed, Kell said.
“Douglas was trying the best he could to get it to fire,” Kell recalled. “He hit the bottom (of the gun) a few times…”
Kell drew his revolver and shot Douglas Escobar in the chest.
“He kind of flinched,” Kell said. “He didn’t respond like I thought he would.”
Douglas Escobar ran behind a bush, emerged on the other side and tried to fire again.
Prosecutor Steve Trauth said Kell fired three more bullets at Douglas Escobar before he fell. Even as he lay on the ground, Escobar kept trying to fire his handgun, Kell testified.
Dennis Escobar allegedly attacked Koenig. Kell testified that he saw the brother beat Koenig with Koenig’s own baton.
Koenig testified that he fired all six bullets in his pistol at Dennis Escobar who ran away.
Kell said Dennis Escobar fell only after he fired two shots at him.
Also testifying Wednesday was Miami Police Detective Ron Sinclair. Sinclair was the second officer on the scene of the March 30 shooting death in Miami, Fla., of police officer Victor Estefan. The Escobar brothers are suspected in that killing as well.
Estefan was shot by a man in a car he pulled over in the area of Miami known as “Little Havana.”
Sinclair testified that Estefan, as he lay dying, offered a description of his assailant that matches a description of Dennis Escobar.
The brothers did not testify during Wednesday’s hearing. They calmly sat at opposite ends of an otherwise empty jury box and listened to their Spanish-speaking interpreters.
The Escobars, handcuffed and shackled, were kept separate because of an Aug. 12 incident in which the [sic] Dennis Escobar allegedly grabbed a bailiff’s gun in courting what authorities considered an escape attempt.
Prosecutor Steve Trauth said he expects the brothers’ preliminary hearing to end today. A preliminary hearing is held to determine if there is enough evidence to warrant a trial.