Kamhen Saleh, the young Porterville man on trial for two counts of second degree murder in what supporters say is a case of self-defense, took the witness stand Friday.
Saleh, 24, testified that moments after being suddenly robbed of a large amount of cash, he opened fired on the robber’s SUV as it backed up toward him and again when the front wheels were pointed at him and the driver gunned the engine.
“The wheels turned toward me, the wheels screeched, the car ‘jumped’ toward me,” he told the jury of six women and six men at the South Valley Justice Center courthouse in Porterville.
A total of eight bullets hit the tan Chevrolet Yukon. Two hit Adam Verdusco, 27, the driver, and one hit Verdusco’s brother-in-law Omar Calderon, 36. Both died.
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If found guilty of second degree murder of both men, Saleh would face 80 years to life in prison. He has no criminal record and played basketball at Monache High and Porterville City College.
Defense attorney John Jackson said earlier this week that Verdusco and Calderon were partners in crime who followed business people out of bank parking lots several times and robbed them of large cash withdrawals.
The whole time I was scared…I was panicked.
Kamhen Saleh, defendant
In August 2013, Saleh withdrew $44,000 in cash from a bank to take to his parents’ gas station and food mart in Pixley, which cashed farmworker paychecks.
He put the money into a backpack and left it in his 1997 Lexus SUV while he went into Office Max in Porterville to buy counterfeit detection pens.
In line, he spotted someone inside his car, rushed out and opened the passenger side door, grabbed the backpack of cash while the robber was holding it, only to let go when the robber, who had gang tattoos on his hands, produced a yellow box cutter knife.
The robber fled to the brown Yukon next to Saleh’s vehicle, and Saleh got a gun out of the front seat of his car and opened fire on the car.
After firing at least eight times, he got into his Lexus and followed the Yukon out of the parking lot. The Yukon lost control, crashed into Saleh’s car and ended up in the center divider with both men dead.
Tulare County prosecutor Robert Dempsie asked Saleh if he knew the Yukon was occupied by more than one person. Saleh, who earlier testified he heard yelling from inside the car, said he did not remember.
Dempsie asked if Saleh was shooting at someone.
“I was just shooting at the car,” Saleh said. “I wasn’t shooting at anyone…I didn’t want the car to run over me.” He added he “wasn’t 100 percent sure” he had shot anyone.
Saleh testified he believed the robber had a gun, causing Dempsie to ask why he followed the Yukon if he believed that the robber was armed.
“I wasn’t thinking,” Saleh said.
Dempsie asked why, after the collision, he warned people that a man in the car had gun, yet approached the SUV and removed the backpack and other items.
“I don’t know for sure,” Saleh said.
Dempsie asked Saleh if there was nothing to fear “because the occupants had been shot by you.”
“I don’t know, I couldn’t say that,” Saleh said “The whole time I was scared…I was panicked.”
Saleh told the truth about what happened and his answers under questioning were consistent, his attorney told reporters.
“Mr. Dempsie didn’t get anything out of him different” than previous testimony, Jackson said.
The jury is expected to get the case Wednesday.