San Francisco: The main suspect who kidnapped and killed four members of an Indian-origin Sikh family, including a baby girl, in California, has entered a not guilty plea in court, authorities said.
The Sikh family of four, 8-month-old Aroohi Dheri, her 27-year-old mother Jasleen Kaur, her 36-year-old father Jasdeep Singh, and her 39-year-old uncle Amandeep Singh were kidnapped at gunpoint and killed allegedly by Jesus Salgado, a former disgruntled employee of their trucking company.
Salgado entered a not guilty plea in court on Thursday, Merced County Chief Deputy District Attorney Matthew Serratto was quoted as saying by CNN.
Salgado, who was arrested on October 6, is charged with four counts of first-degree murder with special circumstances for the death of the Indian-origin family. He is also charged with arson and possession of a firearm by a prohibited person.
Salgado was in court four days prior on Monday, but his arraignment was continued after he told the judge he needed more time to find an attorney.
On Thursday, he told the judge he still did not find an attorney, so he was appointed a public defender.
Prosecutors also added a special allegation of kidnapping to the charges, alleging that Salgado forcefully took the family from their trucking business.
Authorities have said Salgado, who is a former employee of the family's business, kidnapped the four from their central California business last Monday and killed them that day. The family was kidnapped at gunpoint - an abduction which was recorded on surveillance video.
Police took Salgado into custody last week after his family told authorities he admitted to being involved in the kidnapping, Merced County Sheriff's Office spokesperson Alexandra Britton said.
Salgado, 48, is being held on USD 450,000 bail, according to county inmate records. His attorney could not be reached for comment. A status hearing in the case is set for December 15.
He appeared in Merced County Superior court on Thursday morning wearing shackles and a safety garment.
It's the first time their family members have seen Salgado in person since their bodies were found in an orchard near last Wednesday.
Just hours after Jesus Salgado's hearing, his brother, Alberto, 41, also appeared in court for the first time, KFSN TV reported.
He is now charged with criminal conspiracy, accessory and arson. The report added that he was smiling when he first appeared on video and made comments the victims' family felt were disrespectful.
Meanwhile, a large group of the victims' loved ones gathered at the courthouse for the second time this week in a show of solidarity. They are now planning a funeral during the weekend while grieving an unimaginable loss, the report added.
The family, originally from Harsi Pind in Hoshiarpur, Punjab, was kidnapped at a business in Merced County, California.