Seven years after a Kerman couple were killed inside their home, the first of six defendants arrested in the murder case will stand trial, starting Monday.
Fresno County Superior Court Judge John Vogt scheduled the trial after Dawn Singh turned down a plea deal Thursday 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.
Choosing to go to trial, she faces life in prison without parole if convicted of murder and robbery charges, defense attorney Eric Green said.
Green declined to discuss the case, other than to say Singh has pleaded not guilty to the charges.
Sandra De Bartolo, 62, a secretary at Kerman High School, and Gary De Bartolo, 61, who owned an auto glass repair business, were married 42 years. They were stabbed to death inside their El Mar Avenue home on July 22, 2009. Sheriff’s reports say the couple had a marijuana-growing operation inside their residence near Kerman High School.
A criminal complaint accuses Singh, 41, and five others – Jose Alfredo Reyes, Chris Bernard Butler, Andrew DaWayne Jones, Neko Wilson and Leroy Anthony Johnson – of robbing and murdering the DeBartolos.
Three defendants have accepted plea deals and are potential witnesses in Dawn Singh’s trial.
Court records say Butler, 40, Jones, 25, and Reyes, 26, have accepted plea deals and are potential witnesses in Singh’s trial. They have pleaded guilty to two counts of manslaughter, robbery and residential burglary. Their sentencing hearings are pending.
Trials for Wilson, 34, and Johnson, 49, are also pending. Wilson faces life in prison if convicted of the murder and robbery charges; Johnson could get the death penalty.
The case has moved slowly due to motions for evidence filed by the attorneys.
Court records say Kerman police and sheriff’s deputies had the De Bartolo home under surveillance on the morning of the slayings after law enforcement received a tip of a planned robbery there by Asian gang members. Singh, Butler, Jones and Johnson were caught soon after the double murder when their car crashed in Fresno after a high-speed police pursuit. Singh was driving the vehicle. Reyes and Wilson were arrested days later.
Since the killings, all six defendants have remained in Fresno County Jail.
Singh is being tried separately because she invoked her right to a trial, while Wilson and Johnson have made legal motions that seek potential evidence in the case.
Yes, your honor.
Dawn Singh’s response to whether she knew the consequence of going to trial
At Thursday’s hearing, Vogt asked Singh if she knew the the consequence of going to trial. “Yes, your honor,” Singh replied. The judge then scheduled pre-trial motions on Monday. Jury selection could take the rest of the week, the judge said.
Sheriff’s reports say Singh, Butler, Jones and Wilson did not go into the De Bartolo home; Johnson and Reyes went inside.
The reports say Sandra De Bartolo’s throat was slashed in the master bedroom. Her husband called 911 to report that his wife had been murdered.
Soon after, Reyes told law enforcement that he saw Johnson hold a knife to Gary De Bartolo’s throat in a spare bedroom. Reyes told investigators that Johnson asked De Bartolo whether valuables were in the room. When De Bartolo said no, Johnson killed him, Reyes told investigators.
“Reyes got scared and freaked out,” the reports say. Reyes ran out the back door.
A bloody Johnson left the house through the front door and headed to Singh’s car, the sheriff’s reports said. “I think they’re dead,” Johnson said, according to Butler’s statements to sheriff’s investigators.
Jones also told investigators that Johnson admitted that he had killed someone. Butler said he saw Johnson with a knife and heard him say he killed the couple because “they didn’t give him what he asked for,” the sheriff’s reports said.