VISTA — Two men and one woman each pleaded not guilty April 14 in a Vista courtroom, making them three of the five people arraigned on murder charges for the death of a 63-year-old Carlsbad man who was shot in his detached garage April 1.
Joseph Verkade, 34, is accused of being the shooter, and a conviction could lead to the death penalty, according to Deputy District Attorney Matthew Greco.
Verkade; Michael Gualt, 30, and Heather Strauch, 32, are each charged with first-degree murder, attempted robbery and burglary.
Judge Marshall Y. Hockett set bail at $5 million for both Gault and Strauch, but Verkade was given a $10,065,000 bail.
He said that Verkade had four prior felonies, four prior misdemeanors and a failure to appear charge.
Greco said that Verkade is charged with personal use of the weapon, and that he could face the death penalty or life without parole, if convicted.
He said that Gault and Strauch both could serve up to 26 years in prison.
At 1 a.m. April 1, neighbors called police and reported hearing gunshots and seeing three people fleeing from the garage at the 3000 block of Valley Street.
Greco said that there were three individuals who got into a truck and fled the scene.
Michael Michel Sahagun was found deceased in his garage at his Valley Street residence, of a gunshot wound to his chest.
So far, five people have been arrested and arraigned for Sahagun’s death.
Greco said it was a pre-planned attempted murder.
“A sixth individual has been arraigned for assisting, although not charged with murder,” Greco said.
The three original suspects arrested in connection with Sahagun’s murder were found by Carlsbad Police SWAT officers at 4 a.m. April 2, in a room at Motel 6 on 3708 Plaza Drive, according to the Carlsbad Police Department.
Grant MacGregor Hunter, 23, and Mercedes Tiffany Yorba, 19, were arrested, booked into jail and charged with first-degree murder, first-degree robbery, first-degree burglary and conspiracy.
Gary Dean Gomez, 26, is the alleged accessory, and was arrested for possession of narcotics and aiding and abetting after the homicide, Sgt. Mickey Williams of the Carlsbad Police Department said.
At the April 14 arraignment for the latest three arrestees, Sahagun’s brother again addressed the court, as he had done previously at the arraignment for the first set of suspects.
Gerardo Sahagun spoke to the court and requested the judge deny bail to the suspects.
“These defendants who conspired to commit these crimes have a criminal history of drug use and probation violations, are charged of committing these heinous acts of violence against my brother,” he said. “These defendants are clearly a threat to the safety and security of the public if released.”
The three additional suspects were taken into custody April 11, after an investigation led authorities to a search of a residence in the 2300 block of Ron Way in San Diego.