Colin Atagi | The Press Democrat
Facing at least 300 years in prison for a burglary spree along the Mendocino County coast, the man who gained notoriety as the “Red-Bearded Burglar” will avoid trial under a plea deal with prosecutors that could have him behind bars for as little as 25 years.
William Evers, the target of a months-long manhunt, agreed to the plea bargain Friday in Mendocino County Superior Court, pleading guilty to one count of assault on a peace officer.
The deal puts an abrupt end to a case that began about 15 months ago with authorities’ search for an elusive suspect behind a string of home break-ins in a remote stretch of western Mendocino County between Ukiah and the coast
Evers, 40, is linked to a series of burglaries dating back to December 2020 and the assault charge stems from a May 12 exchange of gunfire with a Mendocino County sheriff’s deputy who was investigating a burglary on Cameron Road near the coastal town of Elk.
He’s been in custody since Nov. 4 and will learn his sentence during a March 24 hearing where a judge could give him 25 years to life in prison because he has two previous convictions.
In March 2007, he was convicted of burglary in Humboldt County and in October 2014 he was convicted of making criminal threats in Shasta County.
“He’s a guy who does better in a prison setting and we’re going to give him the opportunity to be in there,” Mendocino County District Attorney David Eyster said after Friday’s court session in Ukiah.
The Mendocino County Public Defender’s Office did not respond to a request for comment.
A preliminary hearing was originally scheduled for Friday so prosecutors could present evidence to determine whether Evers would be eligible to stand trial on 19 counts of criminal activity.
Discussion instead focused on the assault charge, which was not included in the most recent complaint, and the other 19 counts were dismissed.
Under the plea deal, victims will be allowed to pursue restitution and the counts can be maintained in Evers’ criminal records.
Had he gone to trial on those 19 counts, Evers could have faced at least 300 years in prison if convicted of each of them.
Mendocino County Deputy District Attorney Eloise Kelsey said she was “100% certain” there was enough evidence to bring Evers to trial if the preliminary hearing had taken place.
After Friday’s hearing, Kelsey said, “Efficiency and having a case resolved quickly is always a known benefit.”
Evers sat quietly during Friday’s hearing, wearing a gray and white-striped suit with his red beard hanging out from under his blue mask.
He answered “yes” when Judge Keith Faulder asked if he understood conditions of his plea agreement and was escorted from the courtroom following proceedings that lasted a matter of minutes.
Investigators say Evers broke into numerous vacant homes in search of shelter, food and supplies near Ukiah and the towns of Philo, Elk and Albion.
He was arrested Nov. 4 after spending most of last year living in the Mendocino County woods.
In a jailhouse interview with The Press Democrat, Evers said he moved to Arizona to be near his parents under law enforcement supervision in late 2020.
He purchased methamphetamine and left it in a motel room where he had been staying. He returned to a locked room and, fearing the drugs had been discovered, fled to avoid arrest for a parole violation.
A native of Redding, Evers said he caught a Greyhound bus to Ukiah in December 2020 and spent months searching for vacant homes that could provide shelter and supplies.
A criminal complaint references 15 burglaries at 13 locations but Eyster said more could have occurred. Kelsey added there was at least one occasion where he monitored a home and waited for its owner to leave before entering.
Victims are expected to provide statements during Evers’ sentencing and provide better insight into what was stolen from their homes.
The complaint included one count of attempted murder stemming from the exchange of gunfire in May with sheriff’s Deputy Thomas Kelly. Also included were two counts of vandalism and one count of grand theft.
Evers denied the attempted murder allegation and told The Press Democrat he fired one round in the air and had no intention of harming the deputy.
Eyster disputed that claim Friday and reiterated the gun had never been found.
The search for Evers lasted months and he mostly appeared in grainy surveillance footage circulated by authorities.
The case was reminiscent of the 2011 hunt for Aaron Bassler, who gunned down two people and spent days hiding in remote woods before snipers killed him after a 36-day manhunt near Fort Bragg — 17 miles north of Albion.
At the time, his family said the Fort Bragg native suffered from mental illness and his behavior became increasingly threatening before he spent months living in the forest.
Evers estimated he interacted with five people last year before his arrest and was conflicted over fleeing or staying for conversation.
He was arrested after an Albion resident saw him on Albion Ridge Road on Nov. 3 and contacted authorities, who spotted him from a distance before he fled. They returned the next morning and took Evers into custody following a chase.
Prosecutors contend he was intent on avoiding arrest and even created a hole in one cabin so he could escape authorities.“He was thinking about how to stay out of law enforcement custody in a lot of different ways,” Kelsey said.
You can reach Staff Writer Colin Atagi at firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @colin_atagi
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