Murder suspect Jake Henry Combs freely admitted he shot Trevor Earley in the head, saying Earley had threatened to kill his dog after the puppy bit him in the face.

“He wasn’t going to let Mr. Earley kill his dog, so he shot him instead,” sheriff’s Investigator Brandon Head testified this morning during Combs’s preliminary hearing.

After the brief hearing, visiting Judge Marjorie Lord Carter held Combs, 29, to answer on a charge of murder. His arraignment and possible trial-setting is scheduled for June 2. He also is accused of personally discharging a firearm, a Glock 9mm pistol.

The courtroom was filled nearly to capacity with friends and family members of Earley. Many wore shirts bearing his photograph.

The evidence presented today by Deputy District Attorneys Shelly Small and Jessica Acosta was pretty straight-forward: An eyewitness told law enforcement Combs put a pistol to Earley’s head and pulled the trigger, and Combs fully confessed to Investigator Head on Jan. 6, the day of the killing.

The shooting happened in the early morning hours at the Alderpoint home of Elias Antunez, who reported he was face to face with Earley, having a conversation on an outdoor patio, when Combs walked up and shot him. The bullet entered above Earley’s left eye and exited below his right ear.

Deputy Coroner Chad Zeck, also testifying today, said the bullet hole was a “contact wound,” with evidence of burn marks around it.

According to Head’s testimony, Combs, Earley, Antunez and Earley’s best friend Zeb Humphrey had been drinking since the early afternoon. About 7 p.m. they arrived at a Garberville bar and spent two or three hours. They left together in Earley’s Toyota Tacoma and drove to Antunez’s house on Sixth Street in Alderpoint.

The four were getting along well. But within minutes after arriving in Alderpoint, Combs’s Cane Corso puppy bit Earley near his right eye, drawing blood. According to Combs, Earley said he was going to kill the dog. No one saw Earley with a gun. His pistol was found later in his truck outside.

After Earley was shot dead, Combs, along with his dog and Antunez, drove away in Combs’s Ford SUV. Humphrey had left the house earlier and wasn’t there when Earley was killed. He came back to find his best friend dead on the patio.

Antunez went with Combs because “he was concerned about what Mr. Combs might do to him,” Head testified under questioning by Small.

“He was scared.”

At some point on Highway 36 Combs lost control of the SUV and it crashed. Combs told Head he looked for the gun after the wreck and couldn’t find it.

“He said he was going to throw it in the river if he found it,” Head said. He said Combs told him he considered going to his brother’s house in Chico or to Mexico, but he realized that was “an improbable or impractical situation.”

After the crash the two men walked in the dark for about an hour, until they came upon a house with lights on. Antunez asked Combs if they could part ways, and Combs agreed. Antunez went to the house and told the residents what had happened that morning.

Combs, when he spoke to Head, called Earley “this dude who came into my house like we were friends. My dog bit this person. That person said they were going to have to kill my dog so I went up and shot that person in the head.”

At the end of the hearing Small argued Combs obviously had the intent to kill, along with consciousness of guilt. McLaughlin did not argue against holding Combs to answer, saying he believed Combs had been candid with law enforcement.

“I believe Mr. Combs was forthright,” McLaughlin said, adding this case is going to be more about the circumstances immediately before the killing.

Tests showed the 25-year-old Earley had a blood alcohol level of .24 when he died. That is three times the legal limit for driving. No drugs were found in his system.

Cane Corso is an Italian breed of mastiff. No mention was made today about the dog’s size, though Head said his impression was the animal was still a puppy.