Authorities in Bakersfield arrested a former elementary school principal Thursday evening in connection with the death of her husband in 2013, signaling a breakthrough in the years-long investigation of the brutal slaying.
Leslie Jenea Chance, 49, was arrested just before 5:30 p.m. and booked on a charge of first-degree murder, according to Ray Pruitt, a spokesman for the Kern County Sheriff's Office.
A farmworker found the body of Todd Chance riddled with gunshot wounds in a dirt field on the morning of Aug. 25, 2013. About 20 miles away, his 2011 black Ford Mustang was found abandoned.
From the outset, detectives zeroed in on Todd Chance's wife of 17 years, who was also known as Jenea Chance. Without publicly offering a motive, deputies arrested her within days of her husband's death.
But in early September 2013, just before she was set to make her first court appearance, prosecutors ordered her release and asked detectives to strengthen the case.
"We have sent the case back to the Sheriff's Department for further investigation," Mark Pafford, Kern County's chief deputy district attorney, said at the time.
Sheriff's officials said they had since "conducted an extensive, exhaustive investigation" into the killing of Todd Chance, whose obituary described him as a devoted father of three daughters.
Inside Todd Chance's Mustang, investigators in 2013 found a .38-caliber revolver and a note written on white paper, the Bakersfield Californian reported. Authorities also collected the DNA and fingerprints of Jenea Chance.
It's unclear what transpired over the last three years that led to the woman's arrest. Pruitt, the sheriff's spokesman, declined late Thursday to share what new developments had emerged.
Her attorney, Kyle J. Humphrey, emphasized that his client was innocent and criticized police for using a "sneak attack" by arresting Jenea Chance at night — a move he theorized was a strategy to intimidate her.
"An arrest is nonsense," Humphrey told The Times. "The police can arrest whoever they want."
The lawyer said he had not yet met with Jenea Chance behind bars but predicted that she was deeply wounded and concerned for her children.
"Once again, she will be pilloried by the people who always believe the government, and supported by the people who know her and her character," Humphrey said.
Before her first arrest, Jenea Chance worked as principal of Fairview Elementary School, a school of roughly 525 students.
In 2013, Ken Chichester, then the assistant superintendent of personnel of Greenfield Union School District, said she had joined the district in 1997 and was well-respected and smart.
"It's very shocking — so out of character for everybody that knows her," Chichester told The Times.
The school district's website on Thursday listed Jenea Chance as an "administrator on assignment." A school district spokesman could not be reached for comment.
She was being held without bail and is expected to appear in Kern County Superior Court on Monday for her arraignment.
Times staff writer Joseph Serna contributed to this report.