Drastic bail reduction for accused killers in National Guard case
FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- A pair of National Guard members accused of killing another soldier walked out of jail Tuesday night after a major change in their court case.
Jessica Wills and Jacqueline Benavides are charged with murder, but a judge decided Tuesday they won't pose a real threat to the community and they're not a flight risk if they get out. Wills and Benavides have deep roots in the Valley and they're both up for promotions in the National Guard, despite the charges they're facing.
They claim Wills killed in self-defense, and the judge reduced their bail from more than a million to just $50,000. Jessica Wills is more accustomed to camouflage than to the uniform she's been wearing for the last six weeks.
The 23-year-old and her wife Jacqueline Benavides have a huge group of supporters in court, and they're decorated members of the National Guard. But they're fighting for their personal freedom now, accused of killing another soldier after a violent New Year's Eve night.
"We think that no crime was committed here and we're excited to develop the case a little bit more so at some point in time we can vindicate both Jessica and Jacqueline," said Wills' defense attorney Michael Aed.
Aed already knows Wills and Benavides called 911 to report Brian Santos attacking his girlfriend twice that night. Wills admits to stabbing Santos, but says he was attacking her as well as his girlfriend. Fresno police and prosecutors disagree.
They say the girlfriend, another National Guard member, didn't think she needed any help.
"She asked them to leave her alone," said prosecutor Stephanie Savrnoch. "She felt that she could control the situation."
Police say even the 911 calls provide proof of a planned attack on Santos. They say wills threatened to stab him during the first call. And a search warrant reveals they found a bloody knife hidden under a bed in the apartment Wills and Benavides shared.
Aed says the women were clearly in a state of extreme fear and the 911 call proves that too. And as the call continued, it also picked up the first conversation between police and the girlfriend Wills and Benavides claimed they were protecting.
"She's clearly telling the police officers they were just protecting her, that they're battle buddies," Aed said.
The judge's decision to reduce bail to $50,000 is significant because that's the statutory amount for someone charged with manslaughter instead of murder. Both women were released from jail Tuesday night. In fact, a bail bondsman stood among the dozens of supporters who filled the courtroom to capacity.
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