Death penalty, mental health could complicate Fresno parental murder case

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- A few new details are coming out as the northeast Fresno man charged with murdering his parents last weekend made his first court appearance Wednesday.

The case could get complicated soon because the DA's office filed it as a possible death penalty case and also because of the possible mental health issues the police chief mentioned after Julian McElhaney's arrest.

On Tuesday, family members and friends remembered Will and Sylvia McElhaney at a candlelight vigil in front of the house where they were killed.

On Wednesday, they watched from home as 22-year-old Julian McElhaney appeared in court and postponed entering a plea to charges that he murdered his parents.

Julian McElhaney wore a yellow jail jumpsuit, indicating a potential danger to him or to people around him.

His public defender tells Action News Julian can feel the weight of what happened.

"These are awful allegations," said Scott Baly. "This is a terrible case and I think you can kind of see it on his face when he comes into court how this is having some kind of impact on him."

Police say the 22-year-old called 911 after shooting his parents and admitted what he'd done.

RELATED: Fresno man arrested for parents' murders, fifth similar case in five months

Investigators tell us officers also got called to the house in 2018 for an incident involving Julian.

Prosecutors filed special circumstances in the case because of multiple murders, putting the death penalty on the table as a possible punishment.

Legal analyst Tony Capozzi says he's be surprised if they went after the death penalty because Julian is so young and doesn't have any criminal history.

And since Police Chief Paco Balderrama mentioned Julian might have mental health issues, Capozzi says the case could depend on how serious those are and what led up to the shootings.

"One would think it would be a mental health defense, but do we know if there was an argument with the parents?" Capozzi said. "(Maybe) there was an adversarial relationship with the parents over a period of time and something just blew up on this day?"

"We're always looking for mental health," Baly said. "If that's a defense, we're looking for that. Today, I don't have enough to say 'Oh, that's something that's there' or not."

A niece of the victims told us Wednesday the family is still in shock and wishing this wasn't real.

She says they want justice for Will and Sylvia, but the heartbreaking part is that nothing will bring them back.

Julian is due back in court in two weeks.
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