Man accused of kidnapping, slaying 4 Merced family members pleads not guilty

MERCED — The California man accused of kidnapping and killing an 8-month-old baby, her parents and uncle earlier this month pleaded not guilty Thursday.

Jesus Salgado allegedly kidnapped the family at gunpoint from their trucking business on Oct. 3. Authorities say Salgado, a former employee with a longstanding dispute, likely killed them within an hour.

FILE – This image released by the Merced County Sheriff’s Office shows Jesus Salgado. Salgado was charged on Monday, Oct. 10, 2022, in the kidnapping and killings of an 8-month-old baby, her parents and uncle. (Merced County Sheriff’s Office via AP, File)

Salgado, 48, entered his not-guilty plea Thursday morning, KFSN reported. He is scheduled to return to court next month. It was not immediately clear which attorney was representing him.

The victims’ bodies were found two days after their kidnapping when a farm worker in an almond orchard in a remote area of 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.

Salgado faces four counts of first-degree murder with special circumstances, which allege that the slayings took place during the commission of a kidnapping and were part of multiple killings in the same case. He is also charged with arson and possession of a firearm by a prohibited person.

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If convicted, he could spend the rest of his life in prison without the possibility of parole. Merced County Sheriff Vern Warnke has called for Salgado to face the death penalty. But 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. Prosecutors have not yet filed charges in his case.

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