Dawn Singh, the getaway driver in the 2009 slayings of a Kerman couple, was found guilty Tuesday of two counts of murder during the commission of a robbery and residential burglary.
Singh, 41, showed no emotion, other than bowing her head slightly, when the verdicts were announced in Fresno County Superior Court.
In addition to murder, Singh also was found guilty of a felony charge of evading police.
After the killings, prosecutor Gabriel Brickey said Singh led the authorities on a high-speed chase from Kerman to Fresno. During the pursuit she drove more than 130 mph while talking on her cellphone and ran several stop signs and stoplights before crashing into a car outside a Fresno wrecking yard at Jensen Avenue and Golden State Boulevard, Brickey said.
The verdicts were a crushing blow to Singh because before her trial she turned down a plea deal that would have resulted in 25 years in prison, defense attorney Eric Green said. She now faces life in prison without the possibility of parole when she is sentenced on Nov. 8 in Judge John Vogt’s courtroom.
“She wanted less time,” Green said of Singh’s reason for turning down the plea deal.
The jury of four men and eight women reached their verdicts after deliberating less than five hours over two days.
Singh is the first of six defendants to stand trial in the killings of Sandra and Gary De Bartolo. The couple’s throats were slashed on the morning of July 22, 2009, inside their El Mar Avenue home that had an indoor marijuana-growing operation.
During her trial prosecutor Gabriel Brickey told the jury that Singh was a major participant in a plan to steal the couple’s stash of high-grade marijuana.
Brickey said Singh helped Jose Reyes get a gun before he went inside the De Bartolo home. She also told her accomplices that if they grabbed Sandra De Bartolo, her husband would easily turn over the marijuana, Brickey told the jury.
And after the De Bartolos were killed, Singh never expressed shock or remorse, Brickey said. Instead, she threw a towel to one of her accomplices in the back seat and told him to clean up blood in her car.
Singh was tried under a felony-murder rule that says if a killing occurs during the commission or attempted commission of a felony (robbery or residential burglary), any person participating in the felony can also be convicted of murder.
During the trial, Brickey played Gary De Bartolo’s 911 call in which he tells police dispatch that his wife has been murdered. He is then killed while making the call.
In defending Singh, Green said Singh never left her car and didn’t know that Sandra and Gary De Bartolo would be killed.
After the verdicts were announced, Green said the felony-murder rule was unfair because it doesn’t take into account what an accomplice does on his or her own accord.
In this case, Green said, the evidence showed that Leroy Johnson killed the De Bartolos. “She was there to steal marijuana,” Green said. “She didn’t know this nut was going to kill these people.”
Green said he explained the felony-murder rule to Singh and she knew the consequences if she was found guilty. “It was her decision. She wanted to go to trial,” he said.
Sandra De Bartolo, a secretary at Kerman High School, and Gary De Bartolo, who owned an auto glass repair business, were married 42 years.
Chris Bernard Butler, Andrew DaWayne Jones and Leroy Anthony Johnson were arrested with Singh after the crash; Reyes and Neko Wilson, who left the De Bartolo home in another vehicle, were arrested days after the killings.
Since the slayings, all six defendants have remained in Fresno County Jail.
Court records say Reyes, Butler and Jones accepted plea deals to testify against the other defendants. But Brickey only chose Reyes and Butler to testify in Singh’s trial. Trials for Wilson and Johnson are pending. Singh chose to separate her trial from the others because Wilson and Johnson continue to file motions delaying their trial dates.
During the trial, 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. Singh, Butler, Jones and Wilson did not go into the De Bartolo home; only Johnson and Reyes went inside, testimony revealed.
Singh, however, played a key role in the crime, Brickey said, because Butler told law enforcement that when Singh pulled up to the De Bartolo home, she saw the front door open and said: “It’s perfect. Go in.”