After deliberating for 90 minutes Wednesday, a Tulare County Superior Court jury found Kamhen Saleh of Porterville not guilty on second-degree murder charges but guilty of misdemeanor possession of a loaded firearm in city limits.
Judge Stephen Drew immediately sentenced Saleh to time already served. Saleh, who was free on bail, had been charged with second degree murder after he opened fire on two men inside a fleeing vehicle after being robbed of his backpack containing $44,000 cash. Killed were Adam Verdusco, 27, and his brother-in-law Omar Calderon, 36.
Defense attorney John Jackson of Visalia said the jury’s quick verdict shows the case should never have been filed.
I’ve been trying to tell the D.A.’s office for two years that the case should not have been filed in the first place.
Defense attorney John Jackson
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“I’ve been trying to tell the D.A.’s office for two years that the case should not have been filed in the first place. It’s a waste of taxpayer money,” he said.
Jackson said Saleh, 24, who immediately left the courthouse to go home, is “completely relieved that the jury came to the right conclusion.”
The jury could have found Saleh guilty of voluntary or involuntary manslaughter but rejected those options.
Assistant District Attorney Anthony Fultz said that despite the verdict, there was sufficient evidence to bring the case to trial.
“This is how the system is supposed to work. Everybody gets their day in court,” he said.
Saleh testified that he fired in self defense on Aug. 2, 2013, shortly after withdrawing the cash from a bank to take to his family’s business in Pixley.
But Tulare County prosecutor Robert Dempsie told jurors at a South County Justice Center courtroom in Porterville that Saleh used unreasonable force because he didn’t know who was inside the Chevy Yukon and had the option to stay away.
Dempsie said Saleh should have been found guilty of second degree murder under the legal theory of implied malice in which “the defendant intentionally committed an act that was dangerous to human life and was unreasonable.”
Jackson said Saleh was in danger of being run over and killed by Verdusco, who was at the wheel of the Chevy Yukon, and had to protect his own life.
“What would a reasonable person do in the same position as Mr. Saleh?” he asked the jury of six men and six women. “Who put more lives in danger, my client or Mr. Verdusco and Mr. Calderon?”
During the trial, Jackson presented evidence that Verdusco and Calderon, both convicted felons, had a routine of robbing large amounts of cash from cars of business people who just left banks.
Adam Verdusco and Omar Calderon were never charged with robbing businesspeople after they made big cash withdrawals at banks.
During closing arguments on Wednesday, Dempsie said the two men were never arrested for such crimes.
Saleh testified he was inside Office Max in Porterville buying counterfeit detection pens when he spotted someone in the back seat of his 1997 Lexus SUV.
He ran to his car, opened the passenger door and took hold of the backpack being held by a man whose hands had gang tattoos. The robber pulled out a yellow boxcutter knife, and Saleh heard someone from inside the Yukon say “run him over, quick.” But Dempsie tried to cast doubt on that by saying no other witnesses heard the statement.