Crime

Fatal Paso Robles shooting was self-defense, attorney says

Thomas Nolan Yanaga, 52, of Paso Robles was arrested Saturday, March 14, 2015, on suspicion of murder. Original story »
Thomas Nolan Yanaga, 52, of Paso Robles was arrested Saturday, March 14, 2015, on suspicion of murder. Original story »

A Paso Robles man acted in self-defense when he shot an intruder who charged at him, a defense attorney said Wednesday.

“The man protected himself, his wife and his child in his own home,” said Ilan Funke-Bilu, who has been hired to represent Thomas Nolan Yanaga, 52.

But Assistant District Attorney Lee Cunningham, who reviewed the evidence, said the shooting did not appear to be in self-defense.

“It looked like a murder to me,” he said.

Yanaga pleaded not guilty in San Luis Obispo Superior Court on Wednesday to a charge of murder, plus an enhancement for causing great bodily injury with a firearm. He is accused of killing Marshall Savoy, 32, of Atascadero on Saturday.

According to initial police reports prepared by the Sheriff’s Office, the following occurred:

Joyce Yanaga, the defendant’s wife, called 911 to report that a shooting had occurred just after midnight Saturday. When sheriff’s deputies arrived, they found Savoy lying on his side — unresponsive and in a fetal position — in Yanaga’s driveway. He was shirtless, and his body was covered in blood, the result of multiple gunshot wounds.

Just after the deputies arrived, Yanaga exited the house, saying, “He charged me” and “I didn’t mean to do it.”

Deputies found a semi-automatic pistol on the kitchen counter inside the house, where Joyce Yanaga was crying. The Yanagas’ 17-year-old son was in his bedroom.

Deputies said no other people were in the house or inside a fifth-wheel trailer parked on the property. Yanaga told deputies that Savoy’s girlfriend lived in the fifth-wheel trailer.

While Yanaga and his wife were smoking cigarettes in their garage, Yanaga told deputies, Savoy appeared.

“I was inside my garage with the doors closed, and he just came in, barging in,” he said, according to the report. “I kept telling him to leave, to just leave! ‘Will you please leave.’ ”

Yanaga said he didn’t know why Savoy was in the house, but he said Savoy was mad. Savoy shouted, “Give me the keys to your car!” Yanaga said.

“The guy came in through a shut door, went into the garage, took his shirt off and started threatening my client,” Funke-Bilu said.

At one point, Savoy violently threw his shirt against a water heater, Funke-Bilu said.

“And my client proceeded to say, ‘Please leave,’ ” he said. “He wouldn’t leave.”

Yanaga went into the house and returned to the garage with a handgun, Funke-Bilu said. Savoy eventually charged Yanaga, he added, and Yanaga opened fire, shooting Savoy in the kitchen. Savoy pushed Yanaga’s wife aside, Funke-Bilu said, then walked out the garage door and collapsed on the driveway, where he died.

Funke-Bilu said he did not know why Savoy was aggressive.

“Obviously, he lost his temper,” he said. “Something set him off.”

Savoy, who was not armed, was shot at several times.

“We’ll be looking forward to supplemental reports dealing with the examination of the gun,” Cunningham said.

According to the reports, Joyce Yanaga said she and her husband had been in the garage when Savoy came in. Eventually, the three ended up in the living room, she added, where the two men argued before “the shots happened.”

While sitting in the back of a sheriff’s car, Yanaga sobbed with his head between his hands, repeating over and over that he had asked Savoy to leave, according to the report.

Deputies had placed paper bags on Yanaga’s hands to preserve possible gunshot residue evidence. But he wore a hole in one of the bags as he continued to rub his eyes.

“Yanaga continued to demonstrate remorse and regret, and sobbed frequently,” according to the report.

Cunningham said additional police reports include statements from Savoy’s girlfriend, who said she was a witness at the scene.

Yanaga is a welder who used to be a partner with Pacific Tank & Construction. According to court records, Yanaga does not have a history of violent or gun-related crimes in the county.

Savoy has convictions for assault with a deadly weapon in 2008 and battery in 2010. He also has convictions for drug possession, hit-and-run resulting in property damage and willful failure to provide for a child.

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