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Murder suspect in Kern County manhunt died of multiple gunshot wounds, coroner says

Murder suspect in Kern County manhunt died of multiple gunshot wounds, coroner says
Kern County Sheriff Donny Youngblood speaks during a news conference on a manhunt that ended when deputies shot Benjamin Peter Ashley, shown on the screen. (Casey Christie / Bakersfield Californian)

Autopsy results show a man who led authorities on a two-week manhunt through the wilderness near Lake Isabella died of multiple gunshot wounds in a confrontation with deputies.

Kern County coroner's officials said Benjamin Peter Ashley's death was a homicide from multiple gunshot wounds.

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The 34-year-old homeless man was killed about 5:30 p.m. Saturday at a mini-mart on U.S. 395. Kern County sheriff's deputies received a tip from the sister of the store's clerk, who recognized Ashley's distinctive green eyes. He bought food and other items before heading out.

When deputies arrived, they found Ashley and ordered him to show his hands, Sheriff Donny Youngblood said.

Instead, Ashley pulled out a 9-millimeter handgun from his waistband, Youngblood said. Using AR-15 rifles, deputies fired at Ashley, striking him. Ashley had three more handguns on him when deputies searched him.

Deputies had been looking for Ashley in a five-square mile area near Weldon, where he had last exchanged gunfire with SWAT members.

But authorities were hoping Ashley would flee the search area, so they kept the pressure on him.

Their plan may have worked since Ashley was found in Inyokern, about 37 miles east of Weldon.

Youngblood said he believed Ashley moved from area to area through the famed Pacific Crest Trail mostly on foot. Ashley, who once lived in Sunland, carried a backpack and walking stick. Walking was "a way of life," for Ashley, Youngblood said.

"We knew that we were keeping the pressure on him on the area that we were at, but we just couldn't find him because there is so many places to hide," he said. "But we knew if we kept that pressure up, ultimately he would try to escape our perimeter and that's exactly what happened."

For two weeks, authorities had been searching for Ashley in caves, mines and cabins throughout the remote region. Deputies used GPS to mark his tracks. But there were few signs of him in the area, although authorities received hundreds of tips.

"He was just able to avoid us because of the type of terrain," Youngblood said. "When you are afraid and you are running, you can cover a lot of ground."

The pursuit, Youngblood said, was time consuming for deputies and expensive for Kern County.

Three schools and a stretch of the Pacific Crest Trail in the southern Sierra Nevada were closed. Residents were on guard, essentially trapped inside their homes.

Sheriff's officials, however, were committed to finding Ashley after he had kidnapped three men, killed a retired dentist and wounded two SWAT deputies.

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The violence began July 28 after Ashley held three men captive in a cabin in Twin Oaks, where he was believed to have been squatting.

Two days later, retired dentist David Markiewitz, 64, was found dead in another cabin in Jawbone Canyon, about 10 miles away.

The search for Ashley intensified and came to a head Aug. 1, when SWAT deputies confronted Ashley at a mobile home in Kelso Valley.

There, deputies exchanged gunfire with Ashley and two Kern County sheriff's deputies were shot. One deputy was shot in both arms, and the other was grazed.

For breaking news in California, follow @VeronicaRochaLA

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