Two transients accused of killing a Carlsbad woman during a home invasion earlier this week stabbed the victim 50 times all over her body, a prosecutor revealed Wednesday.
Ian Bushee, 37, and Malissa James, 26, are accused in the deadly attack of Marjorie Gawitt, 63.
At an arraignment hearing for the suspects, San Diego County Deputy District Attorney Nicole Rooney detailed the unrelenting violence of the crime as the victim’s family members, including her two sons and daughter, sobbed in the court gallery.
Gawitt had been sleeping in her home when the suspects broke in, Rooney said.
Both Bushee and James face multiple felony charges including first-degree murder, first-degree burglary, and auto theft. James also faces one count of torture.
As the suspects heard the brutal allegations in court, Bushee stared down at the ground while James cried. A bandage could be seen on James' thumb.
If convicted, due to the special circumstances surrounding the case, each suspect could face the death penalty, Rooney said.
According to the Carlsbad Police Department, Bushee and James allegedly stabbed Gawitt as they burglarized her home on Outrigger Lane in Carlsbad at around 12:30 a.m. Monday. Gawitt's home is located north of the Agua Hedionda Lagoon.
Rooney said the victim was stabbed on her face, neck, and back. Gawitt was able to cling on to life long enough to call 911 to report she had been attacked in her home.
After stabbing the victim, the pair stole Gawitt's car and fled the scene, investigators said.
Gawitt was rushed to a local hospital where she died within an hour, police said.
"She was not able to survive her injuries," Rooney added.
Hours later, investigators found Gawitt’s stolen car abandoned near a business on Grand Avenue in San Marcos, about 10 miles east of her home. The interior of the car had blood throughout, the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department said. Carlsbad police soon confirmed the car belonged to the victim.
By 8 p.m. Monday, Bushee and James were taken into custody near a lagoon off Park Drive, a few blocks south of Gawitt’s home. Bushee was booked into the Vista Detention Facility and James into the Las Colinas Detention and Reentry Facility.
At the suspects' arraignment, Rooney asked the judge for no bail in this case, arguing that because Bushee and James are transients, they “have no ties” to San Diego and should be considered a flight risk.
“They were living in an encampment somewhat behind the victim’s residence when this occurred,” Rooney explained.
The prosecutor said both Bushee and James have prior convictions out of San Bernardino, California, where they were both convicted in 2018 of a residential burglary. In that case, they were also co-defendants, Rooney said.
She said both Bushee and James are still on probation stemming from that case out of San Bernardino.
The prosecutor called the pair a "danger to the community."
"It’s a brutal, violent attack on a 63-year-old who was sleeping in her residence when they broke in," Rooney said. "We do think this is a case where no bail is absolutely warranted...we do believe the nature of the threat was particularly violent."
A judge agreed that the suspects would not be eligible for bail.
Both Bushee and James pleaded not guilty.
The deputy district attorney said Gawitt’s family is requesting privacy as they try to cope with the heinous killing of their loved one.
“They want to, kind of, heal and deal with the information that they’ve learned recently,” Rooney added. “They are devastated by the loss.”
Bushee and James are due back in court on March 21 for a readiness conference and on March 27 for a preliminary hearing. As more details are uncovered in the investigation, Rooney estimates those dates could be pushed back.
Meanwhile, neighbors along Outrigger Lane told NBC 7 they were relieved that police had captured the suspects but wondered why the victim’s home had been targeted.
NBC 7 spoke with one neighbor, a woman who only wanted to be identified as “Trish” – who lives two streets away from Outrigger Lane. Trish said her home was also broken into early Monday; several of her belongings – including a family heirloom – were stolen.
Trish said she slept through the burglary. She worried the same suspects in Gawitt’s deadly case had crept through her home. Carlsbad police told NBC 7 they were looking into Trish’s case and trying to determine if Bushee and James are linked to that burglary as well.
The Carlsbad Police Department said officers constantly patrol neighborhoods and, in the words of Chief Neil Gallucci, officers “are just a phone call away.”
Police urged Carlsbad residents concerned with home security to use online resources, including this guide, to keep their homes safe.
Anyone with more details on this case can reach out to Carlsbad police at (760) 931-2197.