Crime

Merced deputies cleared in 2014 shooting of double-homicide suspect

A homicide suspect pointed a gun at Merced County sheriff’s investigators in May 2014, causing two deputies to shoot and kill him outside a Turlock hotel, Sheriff Vern Warnke said Wednesday.

The Stanislaus County District Attorney’s Office determined Sgt. Dustin Witt and Deputy Adam Leuchner were defending themselves and others when they shot and killed 49-year-old Brian Hiatt on May 30, 2014, in Turlock, Warnke told the Merced Sun-Star.

“The deputies were acting in self-defense,” Warnke said. “If they hadn’t done it, we’d likely have been going to a funeral for a sheriff’s deputy.”

Hiatt, a Mariposa resident, was the suspect in the slayings several hours earlier of his estranged wife, Rhonda Hiatt, 47, of Mariposa, and her sister, Lisa Robbins, 51, of Hilmar.

Carol Shipley, a spokeswoman for the district attorney in Stanislaus County, confirmed that the nearly yearlong investigation formally concluded this week, but she declined to comment on any findings in the case.

Warnke said he’d been “verbally told” that the deputies had been cleared of any wrongdoing in the shooting. A formal letter from the prosecutor’s office clearing the deputies is expected to arrive later this week at the Sheriff’s Department.

After the shooting deaths of the two women inside a South Lander Avenue home last year, investigators identified Hiatt as the homicide suspect and tracked him to a hotel on Walnut Road in Turlock. Deputies were surrounding the building when they spotted Hiatt in the parking lot, authorities have said.

Warnke on Wednesday said the gun Hiatt pointed at the deputies was likely the same one he used to kill both women.

Georjean Dennis, a sister of both victims, said she was relieved the lengthy investigation has finally reached its conclusion, saying it provides a better sense of closure for the family.

“This is the hardest thing we’ve ever been through,” Dennis said Wednesday. “I’m just glad it’s finally all over.”

Stanislaus County prosecutors said the length of the investigation was not unusual. In general, Shipley said, collecting all the reports, test results and statements from witnesses can be a laborious process.

Witt, 34, is a 10-year Sheriff’s Department veteran who was promoted to sergeant and was named Deputy of the Year in early May 2014, a few weeks before the deadly incident in Turlock. Leuchner, 38, has been with the department for seven years.

Sun-Star staff writer Rob Parsons can be reached at (209) 385-2482 or rparsons@mercedsunstar.com.

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