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Retribution or self-defense? 2008 Sikh sports festival murder trial goes to jury

Amandeep Singh Dhami drank deeply from the well of the gang life. He’d appropriated its tattoos and cadences, its rhymes and boasts in Sacramento and on the run in India, and, most deadly on one August day nearly seven years ago, its guns.

Closing arguments began Wednesday and concluded Thursday in Dhami’s monthlong murder trial. Dhami is accused of shooting to death rival Parmjit Pamma Singh, 26, and wounding Singh confidant Sahibjeet Singh on Aug. 31, 2008, at a Sikh temple’s sports festival on Bradshaw Road, before fleeing the country for India. Dhami eluded U.S. authorities for five years before he was extradited to the United States in 2013 to face charges.

On Wednesday, Sacramento County Deputy District Attorney Anthony Ortiz detailed Dhami’s progression from violent but low-level gangster to accused killer on trial for murder in a case that also landed his trusted lieutenant in prison for the broad-daylight hit at the crowded festival. Dhami’s sidekick, Gurpreet Singh Gosul, is serving a prison sentence for second-degree murder in the 2008 shooting.

On Facebook, he was “Mista Killafornia.” His media profile in 2011 while a fugitive-at-large on a murder charge, “Halfway around da world and still keepin it gangsta.” Under one eye is a tattoo of a teardrop, the sign of a killer and “a badge of honor,” Ortiz said. Posted on a screen for the jury was a 2011 Facebook post from Dhami, living under an assumed name in India, to his sister:

“I don’t call/I just bust on dem all/Most of dem run as a couple of dem start to fall/three 5 7 gets da job done.”

“He’s telling you what he did,” Ortiz told a jury Wednesday in Dhami’s trial in Sacramento Superior Court. “He’s telling you, through his (Facebook) postings, through his teardrop tattoo, ‘I’m guilty of murder.’”

“That brashness, the cockiness, the belief that he’s above the law – that’s the type of person who commits murder in front of hundreds of people and kids at a religious event,” Ortiz said as rows of Dhami’s family and friends filled seats in the gallery.

Prosecutors say the deadly shooting was retribution for a dust-up at a San Jose nightspot involving Singh’s men and a Dhami associate a week earlier, the latest incident in a long-festering feud between Dhami’s and Singh’s crews.

Dhami’s defense argued that Dhami and Gosul wanted to meet with Singh at the festival to offer an olive branch to their rival following the nightclub showdown, but came armed to the event in case of an ambush.

Dhami testified that the meeting at a festival full of families and their children was to clear the air once and for all, a meeting of “two gangsters who could work things out,” before the shooting started.

Dhami’s attorney, Daniel Horowitz, depicted the scene in his closing argument Thursday as a peace offering, not a gang assassination.

“They go to a park. They don’t take their crew. They go and shake hands,” Horowitz said. Heated words, then gunshots fired into the ground followed before the fatal shots were fired. “If this was an assassination, they wouldn’t have done it in daylight,” Horowitz said.

Horowitz maintained Dhami fired shots in self-defense and pointed his gun to the ground before he was rushed and attacked by Singh’s men, triggering the fatal shots. Singh, too, was armed, Horowitz said, and would have killed Dhami.

But Ortiz said Parmjit Singh was in over his head with Dhami and Gosul from the beginning.

“Pulling up was a hardcore gangster armed for war,” Ortiz said.

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