Robert Hodges, the father who allegedly killed his three children last week after choking his wife, pleaded not guilty to multiple first degree murder charges during a Monday court appearance.
Wearing gray-and-white-striped jail clothes, Hodges, 32, stood nearly expressionless during the brief arraignment hearing in front of Judge Arvid Johnson in Yolo Superior Court and avoided looking at the crowded courtroom where members of his wife’s family filled the front rows.
Hodges was charged with three counts of murder for the deaths of Kelvin Hodges, 11, Julia Hodges, 9, and Lucas Hodges, 7 months. He also faces one count of attempted murder for the alleged assault on his wife, Mai Sheng Hodges.
Describing the crimes as “willful, deliberate and premeditated,” during a press conference earlier in the day, Yolo County District Attorney Jeff Reisig said the two older siblings had been killed with a belt. Reisig did not say how the infant was killed, other than there was no apparent weapon involved.
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Reisig said Hodges’ alleged premeditated killing of his three children constituted a capital crime, but he said he had not decided whether to pursue the death penalty.
But Reisig said Hodges would face three “special circumstance” charge enhancements for lying in wait and committing multiple murders, which make the death penalty a possibility. Under California law, there are 22 special circumstances for first degree murder charges that can elevate the penalty to capital punishment or life in prison without parole.
Reisig met privately with members of Sheng Hodges family after the arraignment, but the family declined to speak to the press after emerging from that meeting a few minutes later.
“Losing a child is a parent’s worst nightmare, and the time since the passing of our beautiful nephews and niece has been a horrific nightmare for my sister and our entire family,” Xai T Vang, who identified herself on social media as the children’s aunt, wrote on Facebook on Sept. 14. “Our hearts are forever shattered.”
A Go Fund Me campaign for Mai Sheng Hodges had raised nearly $30,000 by Monday afternoon and a separate account has been opened for funeral expenses at Bank of America, according to social media posts by Vang.
West Sacramento police Chief Thomas McDonald offered condolences to Sheng Hodges and her family during the press conference and spoke of the toll the crime took on first responders.
“It was a pretty significant scene. It will leave an impression,” McDonald said. “This kind of crime will shock the consciousness of anywhere in the world.”
Hodges was arrested late Wednesday night by a California Highway Patrol officer near Interstate 80 and West El Camino Avenue after police responding to a domestic violence call found the dead children inside the upstairs apartment.
Taking to social media after her husband’s arrest, Sheng Hodges said on Facebook that he had been a loving father and there was no history of domestic abuse, KCRA reported. Other than the social media post, which was quickly made private, neither Robert Hodges or Mai Sheng Hodges have spoken publicly about what happened at their apartment on Wednesday night.
Neighbors said Hodges choked his wife until she ran out of their second-floor apartment, and smothered the children in the home.
Hodges remains in Yolo County Jail without bail and will return to court Oct. 2 to set a date for a preliminary hearing.