Four months after a Topaz Ranch Estates man was found shot to death in his home, the woman accused of murdering him returned to Douglas County after fighting extradition from California.
Jeanine Marie Escandon, 38, appeared Monday for the first time in a Douglas County courtroom to face charges of open murder with use of a deadly weapon and grand larceny of a motor vehicle.
East Fork Justice Tom Perkins appointed attorney Kris Brown to represent Escandon, who's being held in Douglas County Jail on $1 million bail.
She was silent Monday except to acknowledge that she understood her rights, the charges against her, and could not afford to hire a lawyer.
Escandon is accused of shooting Norman Welch, 59, in the back of the head. His body was found Nov. 15, 2011. Authorities say he could have been dead for as long as two weeks when his body was found.
District Attorney Mark Jackson estimated there were six binders containing 80 police reports and more than 70 CDs and DVDs with interviews and photos.
He asked that a status hearing be held Wednesday, and said prosecutors could be ready for a preliminary hearing by March 23.
Escandon is entitled to a preliminary hearing within 15 days, but she may waive that right.
She was arrested Nov. 18 at her brother's residence in Los Angeles after she allegedly fled Douglas County in Welch's vehicle. She was incarcerated in Los Angeles while she fought extradition to Douglas County, a process that took four months.
She was brought back to Douglas County on Friday evening by two sheriff's investigators who flew to Los Angeles to pick her up.
According to court documents, Escandon reportedly admitted shooting Welch but said it was an accident.
The criminal complaint alleges she acted "deliberately and with malice aforethought."
According to court records, a neighbor told investigators he and his son heard Welch and Escandon arguing on Nov. 1 at the home in Topaz Ranch Estates.
An expended 9 mm shell casing was on the floor near Welch's body. He had a wound in the back of his head consistent with a bullet hole, and the autopsy revealed what appeared to be a 9 mm bullet.
Investigators went to Escandon's brother's address in Los Angeles and found her hiding in a closet. Escandon reportedly told investigators that she and Welch had argued and that she hitchhiked to Los Angeles to get away from his abusive behavior.
When confronted about the missing vehicle, which authorities recovered in Los Angeles, she reportedly admitted she stole the car, a 1990 Chrysler Imperial.
She said on the day of the shooting, which was not specified, she and Welch were painting the residence and got into an argument before he lay down on a couch. Escandon reportedly told authorities she retrieved a handgun from the couch cushions and began walking around the house handling the firearm.
She said she didn't realize that it was loaded or cocked. Escandon said that when she was near the couch, the gun discharged and a bullet struck Welch in the head as he lay on the couch.
Escandon said she panicked, grabbed Welch's car keys and drove to State Route 208, headed for Yerington. The woman said she changed her mind and drove to Los Angeles, tossing the gun out the window at an undisclosed location.
Jackson said after the hearing Monday that an open murder charge covers first- or second-degree and manslaughter.
"The law is very clear that not all murders can be prosecuted as death penalty cases," Jackson said.
Jackson said he and his staff would determine whether one of 15 aggravating factors as required by law were circumstances in the case before deciding whether to seek the death penalty.