California Sikh family murder: Suspect pleads not guilty
Washington, Oct 14: The man involved in the kidnapping and killing of an Indian-origin Sikh family, including an eight-month-old baby, pleaded not guilty on Thursday. Jesus Salgado allegedly kidnapped eight-month-old Aroohi, her parents, and her uncle at gunpoint from their trucking business on October 3.
According to authorities, Salgado, a former employee with a longstanding dispute, likely killed them within an hour of kidnapping the family as reported by news agency PTI.
The 48-year-old accused entered his not-guilty plea on Thursday morning, KFSN TV reported, adding that the accused is scheduled to return to court next month and remain in jail on no bail. Douglas Foster, Salgado's court-appointed attorney, declined to comment.
Salgado is charged with four counts of first-degree murder with special circumstances. The authorities allege that the slayings took place during the commission of a kidnapping and were part of multiple killings in the same case.
Salgado is also charged with arson and possession of a firearm by a prohibited person. If convicted, he could spend the rest of his life in prison without the possibility of parole.
The victims' bodies were found two days after the kidnapping in a remote area.
A farm worker in an almond orchard in the San Joaquin Valley, California's agricultural heartland, discovered the remains of Aroohi Dheri; her 27-year-old mother Jasleen Kaur; her 36-year-old father Jasdeep Singh; and her 39-year-old uncle Amandeep Singh.
The investigation into the disappearance of the family began on October 3 after police found Amandeep's truck on fire in the town of Winton. When the family members could not locate Amandeep or his brother and sister-in-law, or the couple's baby, they reported the family as missing.
The search led investigators with the Merced County Sheriff's Office to the family business, Unison Trucking, where video surveillance showed a suspect abducting the family at gunpoint and leading them away in the truck.
Salgado, who was arrested on October 6, attempted suicide last Tuesday as investigators zeroed in on him as a suspect in the case, the Sheriff's Office said in a statement. He was held in the hospital for two days and was then booked into jail.
Merced County Sheriff Vern Warnke has called for Salgado to face the death penalty. However, District Attorney Kimberly Lewis on Monday said she would defer that decision to next year.
Salgado's younger brother Alberto Salgado, 41, is in custody on suspicion of criminal conspiracy, accessory, and destroying evidence.
Meanwhile, Aroohi's relatives announced that the family will be laid to rest on Saturday in Turlock. The funeral will be closed to the public but anyone who would like to support the family can gather outside the venue.