The lawyer for Lynnsey Evakarla Braun argued at a preliminary hearing Tuesday that her client fired out of self-defense in the Jan. 23 killing of a man on a light-rail train in downtown Sacramento.
Assistant Public Defender Alice Michel elicited testimony from a Sacramento police detective that the slain man, Eric McCaster, 51, was carrying a whiskey flask that looked like a gun that he kept sheathed in a black holster. McCaster dropped the flask and picked it up off the train floor, and Michel suggested he displayed the object in front of Braun in the minute or so before the shooting, which the attorney said bolstered her client’s claim of self-defense.
“I don’t think that the people established that she did not shoot in reasonable self-defense,” Michel said.
Sacramento Superior Court Judge Lawrence G. Brown, after reviewing pictures of the flask, said “it certainly does look like it would be a gun in a holster,” but he said the case for self-defense was “not so cut and dried.”
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Brown ruled there was sufficient evidence that a murder took place and that Braun, who turned 33 Tuesday, committed it. The judge ordered the defendant to be held over for trial and scheduled Braun’s next court date for Sept. 9. Braun is being held without bail.
At Tuesday’s hearing, Michel and Deputy District Attorney Thomas Asker submitted still pictures into evidence that were taken from a surveillance video feed inside the light-rail car where the shooting took place. One of the pictures showed Braun – from a sitting position – aiming a gun at McCaster in a photo that appears to have been taken while the shooting was in progress.
McCaster is depicted in the photograph extending his right hand outward, toward Braun. The picture shows him holding what appears to be a bottle of what court officials believe was a fifth of Captain Morgan’s rum in his hand.
McCaster’s blood-alcohol level at his autopsy was listed at 0.23 percent, officials said. The legal limit for intoxication in the state of California is .08 percent.
Sacramento police Detective Dan Burke was the only witness to testify at the hearing, which lasted less than an hour. He described under questioning from Asker how the video shows Braun retrieving a handgun from a suitcase in the moments before the shooting.
“She kind of turned the suitcase one way, and then she reaches into the suitcase and in a quick motion began firing at Mr. McCaster,” Burke testified.
When Braun began shooting, “McCaster kind of backed up at first,” Burke said later in the hearing. “When it stopped, he stumbled backwards toward the exit door behind where the defendant was sitting and he went out that door.”
McCaster fell to the ground and died outside the train when it stopped on O Street near 11th Street.
Braun is a transgender person who identifies as a woman but is being housed with men at the downtown jail. She didn’t get up from her seat on the train until the police arrived, Burke said.
Records show that Braun boarded the eastbound Gold Line train at 9:49 p.m., followed by McCaster at 9:56 p.m. – six minutes before the 10:02 p.m. shooting.
Under questioning from Michel, Burke testified that McCaster took a seat directly across the aisle from the defendant on a car that was otherwise empty. Besides the flask that looked like a gun and the fifth of rum he carried in his hand, McCaster had another flask hanging around his neck, Burke said.
A third passenger who got on the train after McCaster told investigators that he smelled strongly of alcohol and appeared to be slurring his words in a conversation with Braun, according to Burke’s testimony. The only thing the witness said he heard McCaster say to Braun was, “Nice suitcase.” Braun said nothing in reply and appeared to the third passenger to be trying to ignore McCaster, the detective testified.
Burke said the third passenger told police he was concerned for Braun’s safety but that he didn’t believe McCaster posed a serious threat to the defendant.
Michel asked the detective if McCaster was leaning into the aisle toward Braun and trying to get the defendant’s attention.
“It appears that way,” Burke testified.
Braun did not respond to McCaster, the detective said in testimony about the video. . After he dropped the gun-like flask onto the ground, Michel suggested, McCaster displayed it before Braun as he picked it up. Burke testified he couldn’t say for sure if that is depicted in the surveillance video.
According to Asker, Braun purchased the .357 handgun on July 5, 2013, and it was legally registered to her.