A Kerman couple killed inside their home didn’t see death coming, a prosecutor said Monday in opening statements of the Fresno County Superior Court trial for Dawn Singh, the accused getaway driver in the July 2009 double murder.
The killer sneaked up behind 62-year-old Sandra De Bartolo as she stood in her bedroom and slit her throat, prosecutor Gabriel Brickey said. The killer then slashed the throat of 61-year-old Gary De Bartolo, who was wearing only his underwear, in another bedroom while he called 911 to report his wife had been murdered.
Meantime, Singh and two others waited outside the De Bartolo home, which was under surveillance by undercover Fresno County sheriff’s detectives because they had received a tip that the couple had a large indoor marijuana-growing business inside.
After the killings, Singh led law enforcement on a high-speed chase from Kerman to Fresno, reaching speeds of up to 120 mph, before crashing near Jensen Avenue and Golden State Boulevard, Brickey said.
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Singh, Chris Bernard Butler, Andrew DaWayne Jones and Leroy Anthony Johnson were arrested after the crash; Johnson is suspected by law enforcement of carrying out the brutal killings. Jose Reyes and Neko Wilson, who left the De Bartolo home in another vehicle, were arrested days after the killings.
Since the killings, all six defendants have remained in Fresno County Jail. Singh, 41, is the first of the defendants to stand trial on charges of murder and robbery. Singh also is charged with felony evading police. Reyes, Butler and Jones have accepted plea deals to testify against her. If convicted, Singh faces life in prison without parole.
The trial in Judge John Vogt’s courtroom is expected to take two or three weeks. Singh has pleaded not guilty to the charges.
It’s perfect. Go in.
Dawn Singh reportedly said outside the De Bartolo home
Sandra De Bartolo, a secretary at Kerman High School, and Gary De Bartolo, who owned an auto glass repair business, were married 42 years. They were killed in their El Mar Avenue home shortly before 10 a.m. July 22, 2009.
Singh is being tried under the felony-murder rule which generally says if a killing occurs during the commission or attempted commission of a felony (robbery), any person participating in the felony can also be convicted of murder.
Earlier this month, she turned down a plea deal in which she would have been sentenced up to 25 years in prison if she pleaded guilty or no contest to two counts of voluntary manslaughter and admit to three prior convictions that resulted in prison terms. Singh chose to separate her trial from the others because Wilson and Johnson continue to file motions delaying their court dates.
In opening statements Monday, Brickey said sheriff’s deputies, as well as the Kerman Police Department and California Highway Patrol, had the De Bartolo home under surveillance on the morning of the slayings after a confidential informant told them that Asian gang members were going to rob the De Bartolos of cash and marijuana.
Brickey said Singh, Butler, Jones and Wilson did not go into the De Bartolo home; only Johnson and Reyes went inside. Singh, however, played a key role in the robbery plan, he said.
Brickey told the jury that Butler has told law enforcement that when Singh pulled up to the De Bartolo home, she said: “It’s perfect. Go in.” She also told them that if they grabbed Sandra De Bartolo first, her husband would tell them the location of the cash and marijuana, Brickey said.
Brickey said Johnson and Reyes entered the De Bartolo home through an open front door. The killings were so gruesome, Brickey said, that Reyes ran through the screen of a rear sliding door and left.
Meantime, Singh drove around the block with Butler and Jones and then returned to the De Bartolo home.
One of the defendants, Jose Reyes, has told investigators that the plan was to rob the De Bartolos, not kill them
Reyes has told investigators that the plan was to rob the De Bartolos, not kill them. But Brickey told the jury on Monday that Reyes went into the home with a gun he got from Wilson. Reyes and Johnson also wore latex gloves inside the De Bartolo home, the prosecutor said.
A bloody Johnson left the house through the front door and jumped into Singh’s car, sheriff’s reports say. But two undercover sheriff’s detectives, who were down the street from the De Bartolo home and kept track of the defendants with binoculars, testified Monday that they were unaware that the couple had just been slain.
Sheriff’s Sgt. James Dunn and sheriff’s Detective Robert Woodrum said they were in contact with other law enforcement members, but not in contact with the Kerman Police Department. So when Gary De Bartolo called 911, they were unaware of the call, Dunn testified.
In addition, Dunn said he saw Johnson and Reyes put on latex gloves, but testified that he was “not sure what they were up to.” Law enforcement was on the lookout for Asian gang members, not a black man and a Hispanic man, Dunn told the jury.
And Dunn and Woodrum testified that before Singh drove off, they saw a Kerman police motorcycle officer park in front of Singh’s car and a Kerman patrol car pull up behind it.
Woodrum testified he thought the officers were there to serve a search warrant at the De Bartolo home since drugs were being sold there.
Woodrum testified that Singh was able to back up her car and drive off. Soon after, Singh was involved in the high-speed chase with the CHP and other law enforcement agencies.