Carlsbad Police cruiser
A Carlsbad Police cruiser. Courtesy of the department

Two transients accused of fatally stabbing a woman more than 50 times during a predawn home-invasion burglary in Carlsbad pleaded not guilty Wednesday to murder and other charges.

Ian Forrester Bushee, 37, and Malissa James, 26, face a possible life without parole sentence if convicted in the killing of 63-year-old Marjorie Gawitt, who called 911 around 12:30 a.m. Monday to report that she had been stabbed at her home in the 1800 block of Outrigger Lane. Paramedics took the mother of three to a hospital, where she was pronounced dead about an hour later.

The defendants are charged with murder and special circumstance allegations of committing the killing in the commission of a robbery. James is additionally charged with a special circumstance allegation of torture.

Police and prosecutors allege that Bushee and James — both on probation in connection with a burglary in San Bernardino County — broke into Gawitt’s home, where at least one of them stabbed her before the pair stole her car and fled.

Authorities searched for the burglars by ground and aboard a law enforcement helicopter throughout the morning. Shortly before noon, the pair were arrested in an open, brushy area off the 4800 block of Park Drive, about a tenth of a mile from the victim’s home.

Deputies found the victim’s car abandoned in the 800 block of Grand Avenue in San Marcos about five hours after the fatal assault occurred, sheriff’s Lt. David Buether said.

Last April, the suspects were arrested after a homeowner in Upland walked in on them as they were ransacking the victim’s home, according to the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department. The pair fled with thousands of dollars worth of jewelry and electronics, including $70,000 in collectable coins stuffed in a sock.

Bushee and James are both being held without bail and are due back in court March 21 for a readiness conference.

–City News Service