Mental health hurdles pop up in family dispute double murder case

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- A double murder defense is developing, and legal hurdles are already popping up after the first court appearance for a 65-year old Fresno man suspected of killing his daughter-in-law's parents.

"Was he competent at the time?" asked legal analyst Ralph Torres. "Was he insane at the time? We don't know. It's too early to tell. But on its face, you're talking about premeditated and deliberated killing."

Police say a home surveillance camera recorded the whole crime and 65-year-old Darshan Dhanjan didn't even give his victims a chance to defend themselves.

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But Wednesday's court appearance could be a preview of the issues prosecutors have to overcome in the case.

Huddled between a translator and his defense attorney, Dhanjan had very little to say, but it was enough for his attorney to declare doubt as to his mental competency.

"We will not conduct the arraignment based upon counsel's statement," said Judge Michael Idiart.

Dhanjan's criminal case is on hold now until a psychiatrist evaluates his mental condition. In the meantime, his attorney says he'll evaluate the evidence against his client.

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He's charged with murdering two people -- the other set of grandparents to the 4-year-old girl who was at home with her mother when police say Dhanjan shot the victims and threatened to shoot his daughter-in-law as well.

Investigators say the whole thing was caught on camera.

"We will see if there's a video," said Dhanjan's defense attorney, Kojo Moore. "We will look at the video. A lot of times videos don't depict the whole scene, but we'll wait to see all the evidence."

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Torres says the video could erase any defense except for the mental health issues, but those could be a real issue with a defendant as old as Dhanjan and with no criminal history.

"65 years old," the legal analyst said. "You have possible Alzheimer's, dementia, those type of issues come into play. Why did somebody break down like that?"

Prosecutors could pursue the death penalty, and Torres says the video is their ace in the hole even though they won't want to play it in open court.

"But if there is a trial and the death penalty is on the table, it will be played," he said.

Dhanjan will be back in court in October for a competency hearing, and legal analysts tell Action News the case could move forward really quickly if he's found competent to stand trial.
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