Bail reduced for veteran charged with attempted murder
A former JBER soldier accused of shooting two people in May received a significant reduction in bail Monday morning.
Rusty Tuuaga, 25, was being held on more than $100,000 in cash bail for the May 16 shooting of a man and a woman near the Econo Inn in Downtown Anchorage.
According to court documents, surveillance video from the shooting showed the victims getting out of a Jeep Grand Cherokee, then approaching a sport-utility vehicle they had blocked in; one of them had “an item that may have been a hammer” in his hand.
Although the video didn’t show the shooting itself, Soldwedel said, it did show a man – identified by a nearby hotel manager as the shooter – “bending down several times” over the victims before running away.
When police spoke with the wounded woman, she said she and the man who was shot had approached the SUV because they recognized it as Tuuaga’s and he had taken property of theirs. When she approached the SUV, she saw that there were “numerous occupants” in the SUV, then began struggling with Tuuaga as he tried to get out of the front passenger seat.
Soon after the male victim approached with a hammer he had brought from the Jeep, the woman said, Tuuage shot him.
“ [The shot woman] stated that she also went down and did not immediately realize that she had been shot too,” Soldwedel said. “ [She said] that Tuuaga hovered over her and [the male victim] and was grinning before running away.”
When detectives spoke with Tuuaga, who was found near the scene of the shooting by officers, Soldwedel said he described the shooting as an act of self-defense. He said he used a 10mm Glock pistol during the encounter, which he got from a cousin because “he was growing tired of [the victims] following him and asking for their property back.”
When the Jeep approached Wednesday night, Tuuaga told police, he loaded the handgun and cycled a round into the chamber. He shot the man because he was “afraid for his safety” when he approached with the hammer but admitted that he shot the woman “because he was angry.”
Monday, Assistant District Attorney Arne Soldwedel said the male victim is paralyzed, and while the woman's injuries were less serious, his office has recently not been able to reach the female victim.
Tuuaga's defense attorney, Julia Moudy, told Anchorage Superior Court Judge Kevin Saxby that her review of the case points to a self-defense shooting, a potential set-up of her client and that the "confession" described in court documents is misleading.
She urged the judge to release Tuuaga before trial without requiring him to pay monetary bail up front, which is consistent with the recommendation from the Pretrial Enforcement Division (PED), after Tuuaga scored a zero, the lowest possible score, on the State's risk assessment tool.
"You can't make bail decisions to make the community feel better. We can't make bail decisions to make complaining witnesses feel better, or constituents feel better. With all due respect, your honor has to make bail decisions based on the law and the law is that unless the state comes forward with clear and convincing evidence that he won't show up or that he is a danger to the community -- not just based on the charges -- your honor needs to follow the statutory construct and release him with reasonable conditions tailored to him, considering the charges with no money to post," said Moudy.
She noted a large showing of support for Tuuaga, both through community members present in the courtroom and through letters written to the court on Tuuaga's behalf.
"None of those people, I'd argue, would've predicted that he could have shot two people if asked, but PED claims to know better," Soldwedel responded.
The debate then focused in on PED and the State's seven-month-old pretrial process.
"I would ask the court to think carefully about the theory and practice of PED. In theory, it predicts the risk of failure to appear or new criminal activity. Based on what? A formula. A formula that a bunch of people researched, got together and said, 'Aha, this is the very best formula we can come up with,'" said Soldwedel.
Judge Saxby ultimately set Tuuaga's bail at $1,000 cash and ordered he be on house arrest with PED supervision and electronic monitoring.
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