— The double-murder trial of Kamhen Saleh began Monday with the prosecutor telling jurors the 24-year old Porterville resident used unreasonable force in response to a car break-in, while the defense attorney called it justifiable self-defense during a robbery.
Saleh, who is out on bail, is charged with two counts of second-degree murder in the shooting deaths of Adam Verdusco, 27, and his brother-in-law Omar Calderon, 36, in a Porterville parking lot two years ago.
On Aug. 2, 2013, Saleh caught Verdusco stealing a backpack containing $44,000 in cash out of his vehicle and confronted him, only to have Verdusco, who had gang tattoos, produce a box-cutter knife, get into a Chevrolet Yukon and try to run him over, defense attorney John Jackson said.
In the fast-moving confrontation, someone inside the Yukon yelled “Run his ass over,” and Saleh opened fire and hit Verdusco, who was driving, and Calderon, his passenger, Jackson said.
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“My client did not wake up with an evil heart that day,” Jackson, a former prosecutor, told jurors. “The only two people who woke up with an evil heart were Adam Verdusco and Omar Calderon.”
Jackson alleged Verdusco and Calderon were convicted felons who several times followed business owners after they removed large amounts of cash from the bank and robbed them.
Speaking to reporters during a recess, defense investigator Corey Sumpter said there are six documented cases of similar heists — four in the Delano area, one in Pixley and another in Porterville.
Saleh had just removed the cash from a bank to take to his family’s store for cashing farmworker paychecks, his attorney told jurors.
Tulare County prosecutor Robert Dempsie filed a motion to exclude allegations that Verdusco and Calderon had committed similar robberies, none of them proven. But Tulare County Superior Court Judge Stephen Drew denied the motion.
“Two very different worlds collided that day” and it will take “patience and absolute attention to the details” to understand what actually happened, Dempsie said.
“It’s in the details that you will learn that the defendant used unreasonable force when he murdered Adam and Omar that day,” Dempsie said.
Saleh, known as Omar to family and friends, was born in New York City and moved to Porterville as a youth. He played basketball at Monache High and Porterville College, and has been active in the family businesses.
The trial is being held at the South County Justice Center in Porterville, which opened about two years ago. A jury of six men and six women, plus six alternates, is hearing the case.