The twin brothers accused of killing a father and daughter in an Antelope car crash April 2 pleaded not guilty to homicide charges Wednesday in Placer Superior Court.
Roman and Ruslan Glukhoy, both 19, allegedly crashed a stolen white pickup into the car driven by José Luis Barriga-Tovar after leading Placer County sheriff’s deputies on a high-speed chase.
During the Wednesday court appearance in Auburn, the twins looked calm and in better spirits than during their arraignment last week. They showed up in orange jumpsuits and are no longer on suicide watch.
They appeared in court with Yuriy Merkushev, 21, who is accused of resisting arrest and possessing stolen property. Merkushev allegedly rode with the twins in their BMW from Auburn until they crashed it in Loomis. Merkushev also pleaded not guilty to his charges.
He was released on $50,000 bail on Saturday. The Glukhoy twins were denied bail and remain in custody.
Prosecutors added two special circumstance charges for Ruslan Glukhoy that could open the possibility of a death sentence. Previously, Ruslan would only have been eligible for 15 years to life or 25 to life.
“There were two specials that were charged. One was a special circumstance for a murder in the commission of a felony...The other special was a special alleging multiple murder,” said Dave Tellman, supervising deputy district attorney for Placer County, after the hearing.
Tellman declined to say whether Ruslan was driving the pickup and why his office decided to add the two charges.
Joe Welch, a private attorney representing Ruslan, declined comment, but said, “It’s a horrible, horrible tragedy.”
David Cohen, a private Auburn attorney appointed by the court to represent Roman, said, “I would surmise from the charging decision of the district attorney ... that Ruslan is the driver.”
About a dozen friends and relatives of the Glukhoys showed up in court to show support for the twin brothers. The parents, Andrey and Natalya Glukhoy, did not talk to reporters after the hearing. On Saturday, they expressed sorrow for the deaths in an interview with The Sacramento Bee, when Andrey Glukhoy said, “I know we can never pay back what they lost.”
Before the hearing began, Welch and Dan Koukol, who is Merkushev’s attorney, asked the court to bar the media from the proceedings. Welch said the media should be “excluded” because “there may well be issues as to who’s who and who did what.”
“My client would be prejudiced by the media,” Welch told Judge Angus Saint-Evens.
Saint-Evens allowed media to attend, but banned them from taking photos, video or audio. Future coverage will be decided by the presiding judge, he said. The three defendants will make their next court appearance May 19.
About 15 miles away in Lincoln and two hours before the Glukhoys’ 1 p.m. court appearance, about 500 friends and relatives from as far away as Mexico filled St. Joseph Catholic Church to honor the lives of Tovar Barriga and his 14-year-old daughter, Anahi, who died when they were allegedly hit by the truck carrying the Glukhoy twins.
Musicians Daniel Franco Ortiz and Jorge Nicoya Rivera serenaded the audience with “Juntos Como Hermanos” (“We are Together Like Brothers and Sisters”), “Entre Tus Manos” (“In Your Hands”) and “Gracias, Señor” (Thank You, God).
“It’s always very difficult when what we have today, celebrating lives cut very short,” said the Rev. Eric Lofgren. “We heard Jesus say, ‘I’m the resurrection and the life. Everyone who believes in me will never die.’ That’s the challenge now to understand our faith, believe (that) in his mercy and his love, he has gathered José Luis and Anahi to him.”
Numerous mourners nodded when the priest mentioned Anahi’s radiant smile. “She was always smiling,” said her friend and classmate Carly Vigil, 14. “She was really excited to be moving on to high school.”
Another friend Bailey Bowen-Seay tearfully recalled a recent swing dance competition Anahi had entered.
“She got first,” Bowen-Seay said.
Tovar Barriga’s father, Aurelio Tovar, who hadn’t seen his son in 14 years, came from Mexico with Tovar Barriga’s brother Abelino Tovar and his sister Alejandra Tovar, said legal affairs counsel J. Rodrigo Baez of the Mexican Consulate in Sacramento. They were granted special humanitarian parole visas by the U.S. government to attend the funeral, and the consulate helped arrange passage through the Calexico-Mexicali border, Baez said.
Tovar’s mother was not granted humanitarian parole because she previously had been deported, Baez said.