Tulare county judge Glade Roper held 22-year-old Kamhen Saleh to answer to two counts of voluntary manslaughter, reckless discharge of a firearm and concealing a weapon in a car, instead of two murder charges with special circumstances, which could have made him eligible for the death penalty.
"I believe that no reasonable juror could conclude that the defendant acted with actual malice or intent to kill the decedents," Roper said.
Before the judge handed down the decision prosecutors said Saleh committed murder while the defense argued a case of self-defense.
"It seems as if the prosecutor is telling this court that individuals in this county we need to get until we get run over and then once we're under that SUV then we should start shooting," defense attorney John Jackson said.
"No firearms were retrieved from the tan SUV. The defendant at that time is at no risk," prosecutor Robert Dempsie said.
The Porterville college student is accused of shooting and killing Omar Calderon and Adam Verdusco as the two were trying to steal $44,000 in cash from a backpack in Saleh's car. The money was meant for Saleh's family's check-cashing business. The OfficeMax parking lot shooting ended with the two cars crashing just yards away on Henderson Ave.
The case and Saleh's arrest drew dozens of spectators during his hearing. Some family, friends, and even out-of-town business owners.
"We've been praying every day a lot of people have been praying for him to come home. His mom wants to see him more than anything. She cries every day," defendant's brother Alla Saleh said.
While the defense is relieved Saleh will not face murder charges they hope a jury will ultimately drop all charges against him.
"I think it's a step in the right direction. We're definitely not done we still have a lot of work to do," Alla Saleh said.
Prosecutors say they are disappointed with the judge's ruling and haven't decided yet how they are going to proceed. Wednesday Saleh will be back in court for a bail hearing. It's possible he could be released from custody that day.