FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) --More than seven years after the killings of a Kerman couple, the first of six suspects is standing trial for murder.
Like a lot of people, Gary and Sandra DeBartolo had debts -- theirs apparently worse because of gambling. But investigators believe their solution got them involved in a criminal underworld, which is why sheriff's deputies were quietly watching them and their home when someone murdered them.
Photos of the DeBartolos show a sweet couple in their 60s -- a school secretary and a windshield repair business owner. But behind closed doors, they were hiding important pieces of their lives.
Action News uncovered court documents detailing the gambling debts they'd racked up and the financial disaster they faced. Their apparent solution grew in the garage of their Kerman home.
"The DeBartolos had somewhat of a secret," said prosecutor Gabriel Brickey. "They were growing marijuana inside their home and the wrong people found out."
Kerman police got a tip in July 2009 about the wrong people coming to rob the DeBartolos. Asian gang members were supposedly coming from L.A. to hit the home. So, sheriff's deputies and CHP officers were stationed nearby, and Kerman police were trying to get a search warrant when a Chrysler pulled up and an African-American man and a Latino walked into the house.
"(Neither) that vehicle nor those suspects matched the description, so our mindset was that it was just someone else going to the house," said CHP officer Ben Fillman, who was stationed a short distance from the home.
Minutes later, Gary DeBartolo called 911 to report his wife's murder. He also died before deputies got into the house. Prosecutors say Leroy Johnson killed them both while Jose Reyes was in the house.
Outside, Dawn Singh waited to drive them away. She's now on trial for the murder since she was allegedly part of the conspiracy to commit a felony leading up to the deaths. And prosecutors say she was more than just a getaway driver. She was intimately involved in the criminal blueprint.
"This defendant, as part of the plan, said 'Grab the lady. Grab the lady, then the man will tell you where the marijuana and the money is,'" Brickey said.
Two of the six alleged conspirators are expected to testify against Singh. Her attorney says he'll try to prove Johnson committed the murders outside of the scope of any planning she was involved with. Johnson is facing the death penalty in another trial set for next year.