CARLSBAD — A pair of transients were arraigned Wednesday afternoon at Vista Superior Court in connection with Monday’s predawn home-invasion robbery and stabbing death of a 63-year-old Carlsbad resident.
Ian Forrester Bushee, 37, and Malissa James, 26, pleaded not guilty to multiple felony charges including first-degree murder, first-degree burglary and auto theft.
James is also facing a separate charge of torture in the fatal attack against Marjorie Gawitt.
Superior Court Judge James Simmons, Jr. denied bail for both defendants.
Due to the severity of the allegations, both Bushee and James could face the death penalty if convicted, according to San Diego County Deputy District Attorney Nicole Rooney.
“We do think this is a case where no bail is absolutely warranted,” Rooney said. “This was a brutal, violent attack,” adding that both defendants are a danger to the community and pose a flight risk due to their transient status.
James, shackled and wearing a bandage on her thumb, was seated in the courtroom while Bushee stood behind a glass partition as the prosecutor described the brutal series of events that unfolded shortly after midnight on Monday, March 11.
At approximately 12:30 a.m., the defendants broke into Gawitt’s home as she slept to commit a residential burglary.
According to Rooney, the victim suffered a brutal attack and was stabbed “upwards of 50 times in her face, neck and back.”
Gawitt survived the attack long enough to call 911 and was taken to a local hospital where she later succumbed to her injuries and was pronounced dead.
After stabbing the victim, both suspects fled in the victim’s car which was found abandoned with the interior covered in blood around 5:30 a.m. on Grand Avenue in San Marcos, according to investigators.
Bushee and James were arrested a few hours later at Park Drive and Neblina Drive, near Agua Hedionda Lagoon in Carlsbad, several blocks from the original crime scene.
In the days leading up to the murder, both Bushee and James were residing in a homeless encampment just north of the lagoon located behind Gawitt’s home on Outrigger Lane, according to the Carlsbad Police Department.
In 2018, Bushee and James were convicted of residential burglary as co-defendants in San Bernandino County and were still on parole at the time of Gawitt’s death.
Both defendants are scheduled to appear for a readiness conference on March 21 and a preliminary hearing on March 27 at the Vista courthouse.
Bushee was booked into Vista Detention Facility and James at Las Colinas Detention and Reentry Facility in Santee.
The victim’s family members attended the arraignment and wept throughout the brief hearing.
Carlsbad police on Wednesday said they would hold a community meeting at 5:30 p.m. on March 20 at the Department’s safety training center at 5750 Orion Street.