Tony had no idea why he killed his friend in Oceanside

What the babysitter saw in the garage

At the very back of the garage was a small, weak light.
  • At the very back of the garage was a small, weak light.
  • Image by Eva Knott

Scott Schafer was out in front of his house on Oceanside’s Santa Anita Street at about 5 p.m. His four-year–old son was playing with two neighbor kids. Scott was friends with their dad Robbie, who also had a four-year-old. They all went trick-or-treating together the previous Halloween. “They get along great,” Scott said later.

Best friend murdered on Santa Rosa Street

Best friend murdered on Santa Rosa Street

Evidence photo

The group was hanging out on a Friday afternoon, April 24, 2015. Their neighborhood — in the northeast quadrant formed by Interstate 5 and Highway 76, near Camp Pendleton’s main gate — is less than a mile from the ocean as the seagull flies. It was overcast all day, with a little drizzle in the middle of the day, and almost no wind at all. The temperature hovered around 60 all day and into the night.

Bloody knife found on floor of garage had inscription on the large blade.

Bloody knife found on floor of garage had inscription on the large blade.

While they were standing in the yard, Scott and Robbie saw a tall young woman walk along the sidewalk toward them. She had two little boys with her. The men recognized the boys. They lived around the corner. The young woman turned out to be their new babysitter. The babysitter, Jessica, quickly made friends with Scott’s wife Emily. They were both from New York.

 Emily walked Jessica back to their home on Santa Rosa Street.

Emily walked Jessica back to their home on Santa Rosa Street.

Everybody enjoyed the accidental get-together. When Scott saw that the boys were straying into the street, he invited everyone into his home; the boys played on the trampoline in the backyard while Scott fired up the BBQ and they had hamburgers and hot dogs.

Jessica: “We did not have anything planned...maybe go to the park."

Jessica: “We did not have anything planned...maybe go to the park."

It was after 8 p.m. and dark outside when Jessica said she ought to get the boys home. She expected their mother would return home sometime around 9 p.m., and Jessica needed to bathe the boys and get them into bed. Emily walked Jessica back to their home on Santa Rosa Street a block east.

Tony was in the living room singing and playing his guitar.

Tony was in the living room singing and playing his guitar.

Scott said it was about 30 minutes later when Jessica suddenly returned. “We heard the car roll up really fast, we heard a screech,” Scott remembered. “And she came up to the house really hysterical, and I really did not understand what was going on, because she was not making any sense.”

Tony did two tours of duty in Iraq.

Tony did two tours of duty in Iraq.

The young woman was frantic for help. “We were the only ones in the neighborhood she knew, so she came back to our house,” Scott realized. “I assumed there was something wrong with the kids, so I was already out the door with Robbie.”

Tony in the courtroom. He had to sell his home because he was getting a divorce.

Tony in the courtroom. He had to sell his home because he was getting a divorce.

But Emily quickly caught up with her husband. “My wife stopped me and said, ‘No, the dad is dead,’ that the man there had killed the father.”

Scott remembered all this two years later, in a courtroom. “My wife said, ‘Hold on... The dad is dead, and the kids are there.’”

Brad and Tony in April 2015. “I just killed my friend. And I don’t even know why.”

Brad and Tony in April 2015. “I just killed my friend. And I don’t even know why.”

Scott had been an active-duty Marine from 1996 through 2000. He is of average height and looks unremarkable at first glance until one notices how fit he is. He went back inside his home long enough to get his KA-BAR knife, the type that Marines use. “After she said somebody was dead, possibly to protect myself, or those children,” Scott explained his actions later to a judge. He said he took the knife without the sheath.

Scott was barefoot by the end of the struggle.

Scott was barefoot by the end of the struggle.

Robbie had a pistol in his home, and he hurried to get it. But Robbie was on crutches because he had sprained his foot a few days earlier, so he was moving slower. Scott jumped in his truck and told Robbie he would pick him up. “I picked up Robbie from his house, in my truck, and drove to the next road, where the house was.... I parked probably two houses from the actual house. It took us a couple minutes.”

Robbie had a pistol in his home, and he hurried to get it.

Robbie had a pistol in his home, and he hurried to get it.

When Scott and Robbie pulled up, they could see a man with a can of beer in his hand walking up the driveway at 1435 Santa Rosa Street. The garage door was open, but it was dark inside the cluttered garage. At the very back of the garage was a small, weak light. There was a narrow path through the mess where a person could walk from the front to a door in the back wall that led into the home.

The would-be rescuers could hear the man with the beer calling out, “Tony? Tony? Are you all right?” That was the first time Scott or Robbie heard the name Tony.

After the man in the driveway had gone a short way into the garage, he saw something that caused him alarm. “I remember him dropping his beer and turning around,” Scott said. The man who let go of his beer retreated back across the street to his house.

Scott walked up the driveway toward the garage. Finally he could see a man crouched in the far corner of the garage, near the small light. “I was saying, ‘Tony, Tony, are you all right? What’s going on?’ And he said, ‘No, I’m not all right.’” Scott used the same name he heard the beer-toting man use. He did not recognize the man in the garage.

Robbie was close behind Scott. His pistol was inside the front pocket of his hoodie. Scott said later, “I pulled out my knife, told Robbie to pull out his gun and draw down, and if he started coming at me to shoot him.”

Both men later said they could see the man in the back of the garage was cutting at his own neck and arms. “It was pretty distinct that he was cutting himself with the object in his right hand.” Scott said the cutting tool was not a knife but something smaller. “Maybe it was a piece of glass.” There were broken shards of glass all around, on the floor.

“His back was toward me,” Scott remembered. Then he saw the man put down his cutting tool and pick up something else. “I could see a light in Tony’s hands, it looked like the light of a cell phone in his hands.” The man cupped the light in both hands. “It appeared to me he was looking at his phone and texting.” Scott decided this was the moment. “I thought to take him.... I decided to put my knife up on the fridge; I was confident enough not to terminate him but to just physically subdue him,” Scott said. “I felt confident enough in my ability to just grab him and hold him down, instead of doing more damage.”

Later, a prosecutor entered as Exhibit #28 a photo of a large knife resting on top of a refrigerator.

Scott said as they struggled, “He was trying to turn around.” They were knocking things over, and both fell over multiple times. “We were tripping and slipping. There wasn’t much room in there.” Scott was trying to move Tony out of the garage. “It was definitely pretty slippery as far as the blood.”

Scott said when he left his house he was wearing flip-flops and he was barefoot by the end of it. Some evidence photos showed a flip-flop here and there in the mess.

“He seemed pissed off,” Scott remembered. During their struggle, Tony kept saying, “I’m gonna kill you if I get away!”

Scott managed to drag the man out of the crowded garage; the wide, bloody smear they made was later photographed as evidence.

“He was saying, ‘I’m going to kill you,’ and then, ‘Just kill me.’ Once I had him on the ground, it switched to, ‘Just kill me,’” Scott said. “It was a choke-hold, so it wasn’t coming out pretty clear.”

Robbie went into the garage and checked a man who was face-down in there.

In the driveway, Scott could see across the street there were two people watching. While he managed Tony in a choke-hold, he yelled at the spectators to go in the house and get the kids. Scott also yelled to cover the eyes of the boys so they would not see their father — the man prone in the garage. The now-beer-less neighbor went in and came out with a child under each arm and hurried back across the street.

Scott then saw police officers arriving. “They were running across the street. I yelled, ‘Over here, over here!’” and the officers changed course and ran to the struggle in the driveway.

“They couldn’t get him cuffed because there was so much blood,” Scott remembered. “I was going to break his arm, so I got the other arm around and they got him cuffed. So then I got off.”

A news bulletin released later from Oceanside police declared it took five officers to take the suspect into custody.

Jessica is young, tall, thin, and pale. She has a casual style and wears her wavy brown hair loose around her shoulders. After she moved to California she ran an ad on Craigslist offering babysitting services. A woman named Geri responded, and Jessica was hired to watch the woman’s two young boys, almost four and two years old.

Jessica had been babysitting the boys for about two months by the end of April 2015. She went to their home on Santa Rosa Street two or three days a week at about 4 p.m., shortly before Geri went to work. Jessica had met Brad, the father of the boys, but he did not live there. She only saw Brad now and then, when he would stop by. He was trying to get his drinking under control, and just a few days earlier he had decided to abstain completely from alcohol.

The last four or five times Brad showed up at the house he brought with him a new friend, named Tony. “He was always with Brad,” Jessica remembered. “They got along very well; they appeared to be good friends.” Jessica spoke briefly with Tony the few times she saw him. “It was civil. We would talk to each other for a few minutes, kind of a ‘Hi, how are you?’ kind of thing. I did not get to know him.”

On that drizzly gray Friday, Jessica arrived at the home on Santa Rosa Street at about four o’clock, as usual. When she arrived, “It was just me, Geri, and the boys.” When Geri left for work, Jessica was not aware of where Brad or his pal Tony might be. “I never really knew when to expect them to be there.”

Jessica knew she would be with the boys until at least 9 p.m. “We did not have anything planned...maybe go to the park, nothing special.” There was a nice park about a half mile away. “We decided to go for a walk around the block.” Jessica got the boys together, “And we just left the home.

“We ran into neighbors” — Scott, Robbie, and their kids — “on the other side of the street, that we had spoken to previously.” Jessica remembered there was a boy there the same age and was glad the boys could play together. They lingered for hours. “The children had dinner there.” It was about 8 p.m. when they left to go home. “The boys had a steady bedtime,” and Jessica wanted to keep them on schedule.

When she got back to Santa Rosa Street, Brad was in the kitchen cooking and Tony was in the living room singing and playing his guitar. “He was sitting on the couch against the window, next to the door.”

Jessica remembered Tony as being relaxed, “Kind of singing and humming along with the guitar.” She went to bathe the kids but could still hear the men. Brad told Tony he had to “Wrap it up, because it is the boys’ bedtime.” Jessica did not find the guitar obnoxiously loud, “but it was too loud for the children to go to sleep.” Tony complied. “He just agreed and packed up his things. I could hear it. I couldn’t see it — I was in the bathroom.”

From past experience, Jessica knew that when Brad was home his boys wanted to be near him. Instead of trying to get them to sleep in a bedroom, the boys were allowed to stretch out in the living room, one on each couch. “They laid down on the couch, I made their bottles, laid a blanket on them.” Jessica sat at one end of the longer couch and began reading to the children. The boys could see their dad as he moved around in the kitchen.

Brad knew his boys would not go to sleep while they could see him, and he soon took his keys and cell phone and a pack of cigarettes and went into the garage. Tony followed. Jessica later said that Brad seemed in a normal mood, nothing out of the ordinary — “Well, maybe he was a little annoyed with Tony, but fine.”

Brad and Tony were both in the garage while Jessica read to the boys. It was only about five minutes later when she heard a loud sound, “a crashing sound.” Then she heard Brad curse. “It was quick, abrupt, loud. He said, ‘Fuck!’” After that, “I just heard, like, a shaky breathing sound.”

Tony walked into the room and she asked him what fell. He replied, “Hell fell.”

Tony appeared quiet and calm. “I asked him if Brad was okay, that I had heard a crash.” Tony was standing in front of her. He faced her as she was seated on the couch, but he did not make eye contact with her: he was staring off into the distance. “I asked him if Brad was okay, because I did not see Brad.”

She noticed a small amount of blood on one of Tony’s hands, but it was not significant. She guessed maybe he had tripped and cut himself, or something like that. Jessica asked Tony if he was okay; he said he had been better.

“I would say that he seemed a little down.”

Then Tony went back into the garage. He was gone perhaps another five minutes.

When he came back into the house, Tony grabbed onto a chair in the kitchen to keep from falling. He was stumbling so much that Jessica thought he was intoxicated. He staggered into the living room and collapsed onto a couch where the youngest boy lay — he fell onto the child. Jessica said, “Watch out!” Tony said, “Oh, sorry,” like he was in a daze. And he moved over just a little bit, so he was in more of an upright, seated position.

“I asked where Brad was, and he told me that Brad was ‘the devil,’ but not to worry about it cause he ‘slayed the beast.’” Tony said this in a righteous tone, Jessica later recounted. “His demeanor seemed accomplished, like he was proud of what he did, like he was confident of his decision. He had no remorse in his voice whatsoever.”

Tony spoke while he was seated on the couch, but he made no eye contact with Jessica. “He was staring straight off, not looking at anything in particular, but looking off into the distance.” She noticed, “He had a considerable amount of blood on him, more than before.” The alarm was rising in Jessica when she saw, “There was more blood on his hands; instead of just one hand it was on both, and on his feet or his legs.”

Jessica said she did not want to look freaked out, she did not want to scare the boys, and she did not want to tip off Tony that something was not right. And then Tony got up again and he walked out to the garage. Jessica carefully followed and tried to shut that door and lock it, “But apparently it does not lock.”

That was when she picked up her keys and started for the front door of the house. She was barefoot and did not try to find her shoes. As she passed through the living room toward the door, “I told the boys to stay where they were, that I would be right back, not to try to go outside.” Jessica’s plan was to make it to her car, which was parked at the curb directly in front of the house.

“And I went out the front door and tried to run to my car.”

Beyond the front door, she hurried toward the small gate in the fence around the yard. The light was on in the garage and she looked that way. “When I looked back, I saw Tony crouched on the ground, and Brad next to him.... I saw his back.... I didn’t see him doing anything to Brad; he was just kneeling over him.”

As she ran down the driveway, she let the gate swing shut behind her, and it made a click. “It alerted him, the gate closing.”

She then had Tony’s attention. “He started to shout my name and started to run after me.” She only got a quick look at him. “I saw he had something in his hand, but I did not know what it was.” She continued toward her car. “He seemed very worried,” Jessica testified. “He was asking me to wait.... He seemed worried, like he didn’t want me to get away, like he wanted to explain himself. I didn’t stop. I continued to run to my car....

“When I got to my car I got inside and I locked the door immediately.” Her windows were almost all the way up because it was a wet and drizzly day, so her windows were open only a small crack. “Enough I could hear him.”

“He tried to open the door, and when he realized it was locked, he started banging on the window.” Bloody smears on her car were later photographed for evidence.

As she pulled away, she could see, “He went to his car, which was parked directly behind mine, as if he was going to follow me.” She saw in her rearview mirror, “He did turn his headlights on.” Jessica was unsure if he had gotten into his car. “I was driving away at that point.”

Jessica could not use her cell phone. “My phone was dead.” She thought to go back to the neighbors “to get help.” Jessica said, “I banged on their door.” But Robbie, who was still at Scott’s house, remembered it differently: “She came straight through the front door into the living room where the adults were; she did not knock nor ring the doorbell. I was very surprised at her entrance — it startled me.”

It was Scott’s wife Emily who called Oceanside police.

The man lying face-down in the garage was Bradley Thomas Garner, 49 years old. A San Diego County coroner described him as 5 feet 10 inches tall and 191 pounds. The fatal stab wound was in his left chest, estimated at five inches deep. The direction of the stab was almost straight, front to back, slightly downward. The coroner said death was not immediate, that it took some minutes to bleed out.

There were more stab wounds: two on the back of the neck, one on the back of the head, and another in the upper back. Those stabs to the posterior were described as shallow and non-fatal.

Blood tests showed Brad had no alcohol in his system; and a test for illicit drugs, which screens for the most common street drugs, found none.

The man known as “Tony” was first taken to the hospital for treatment of the slashes on his neck and arms.

His full name is David Anthony Strouth. He was 34 when he was arrested and charged with murder. Tony testified in his own defense more than two years later, during his trial. Strouth was an active-duty Marine for ten years; he did two tours of duty in Iraq. In the witness box, he briefly described some of his war experiences. He said he was trained to respond quickly. “Hesitation will get you killed, so, no, you act.”

Tony’s defense was that Brad had attacked him in the garage with a KA-BAR knife, a knife that actually belonged to Tony, but had been left in Brad's garage. It was inscribed with the words OPERATION IRAQI FREEDOM.

“Yeah, he was holding it in his lap. It appeared to be sheathed.” Tony said each man was using his own cell phone, and Tony was pacing back and forth, and Brad was seated in an office chair in the garage. Suddenly, Tony testified, Brad leaped from his chair and grabbed Tony by his neck. Tony said he was able to get his knife away and use it on Brad in self-defense.

When asked why Brad would attack him, Tony answered, “I have no clue.”

Tony and Brad had met only about three weeks before their fatal encounter in the garage. Brad was 15 years older and 50 pounds heavier than his new friend. Tony was very thin at the time: at 5 feet 11 inches tall, he was 146 pounds. It was a mutual friend, a former Marine buddy, who introduced Tony to Brad. By all accounts, everybody who saw them together said Tony and Brad became instant friends.

Both Tony and Brad played guitar, and they made plans to start a band. They were both heavy drinkers who had decided to stop drinking together. They worked on projects together, they were hired as a team to fix up a boat in Oceanside Harbor.

Tony described Brad as a “cool dude” to his friends; Brad was a confidant; Tony “loved Brad like a brother.” And Tony said to the jury during his trial, “I trusted him,” even while he acknowledged, “We only knew each other a little less than a month.”

Tony told the jury that Brad had spent most his time with the 1st Recon Battalion, and Tony knew that was “a prestige unit, very highly trained, a very specific set of skills. They do a lot of things behind enemy lines, clandestine operations, snooping and pooping, gathering intelligence, things of that nature.”

However, a close relation of Brad stated that he never served in the military.

The buddies planned to get an apartment together. The lease was up where Brad was living, and Tony had to sell his home because he was getting a divorce. On the Thursday before Brad was stabbed to death, they signed a six-month lease for an apartment, and Tony had paid the deposit.

“At the time, Brad was my best friend, correct.” The morning of the day Brad was killed, Tony went to a store and had bought two new cell phones, one for himself and one for Brad.

Three mental health experts, hired by attorneys for both sides, declared that Tony was definitely suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder after his life-threatening experiences in war.

In the witness box, after he explained how he killed Brad, Tony was asked why he started to hack away at himself?

Tony replied, “I just killed my friend. And I don’t even know why.”

After a two-week trial, on October 5, 2017, a jury declared Tony was guilty of second-degree murder. On December 14, in Vista’s North County Superior Courthouse, he was sentenced to 16 years to life in prison.

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David Anthony Strouth talked with three different, court approved mental health experts. They all agreed he suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Strouth survived two tours of duty in Iraq, but the transition back into civilian life was too hard. This photo is taken during one of Strouth's interviews by a psychiatrist, which was video'd. Jail records show that Strouth is still in local custody, jail, he has not been taken to State prison yet.

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