The owners of Salisbury’s Market in Lodi will stand trial for arson, insurance fraud and other charges after a San Joaquin County judge rejected a motion to dismiss all charges on Monday.
Defense Attorney Michael Farley filed the motion in July, which refuted a judge’s ruling that there was enough evidence against Prem Basuta, 47, Lulwinder Basuta, 48, and Gurmail Singh, 55, to proceed to trial.
After reviewing arguments from Farley and San Joaquin County Deputy District Attorney J.C. Weydert, as well as the transcript from the preliminary hearing, Judge Xapuri Villapudua agreed that the defendants should stand trial. Villapudua did, however, express doubt that the defendants would ultimately be convicted.
“I think this case is very difficult to prove beyond a reasonable doubt,” she said during Monday’s hearing.
Lodi police and fire detectives spent months investigating the cause of two fires that broke out less than an hour apart inside Salisbury’s Market, located at 2401 W. Turner Road, on Oct. 15, 2011.
In March 2012, arrests warrants were issued for the Basutas and Singh after detectives alleged that the second fire was a result of arson.
After seeing the evidence and witnesses presented against the defendants during a preliminary hearing, Farley is optimistic despite an impending trial.
“I thought for sure that the government would come up with other evidence in support of the accusations, and for that reason I’m completely confident that (the defendants) will be completely exonerated after a trial,” he said.
Weydert said he only presented enough evidence and witnesses during the preliminary hearing to convince a judge that the case should precede to trial. He added that more evidence would be presented during a trial.
“I didn’t put every witness and all the facts on for the (preliminary hearing),” he said.
During Monday’s hearing, Farley asked that if the charges weren’t dropped against all three defendants, that they at least be dropped against Lulwinder Basuta and Singh.
It was revealed during the preliminary hearing that Prem Basuta was the only owner not accounted for between the times of the first and second fire.
Weydert argued that all the owners should be implicated since they had a $1 million insurance policy and claimed more than $500,000 in damages.
Villapudua decided not to dismiss the charges against the two defendants.
The Basutas and Singh were in attendance for Monday’s hearing. After Villapudua ruled that the case would continue to trial, Lulwinder Basuta asked to speak. But Villapudua and Farley simultaneously said “no.”
Villapudua said her decision was largely based on testimony from Lodi police and fire investigators. But her comments about the challenge of proving the defendants’ guilt echoed statements made by Judge Bernard Garber, who originally ruled that the case would proceed to trial.
“Can you imagine arguing this to a jury?” Garber said during the preliminary hearing. “They’d be mad,because they’d be sitting here for three or four weeks listening to this stuff ... be hard to look them straight in the eye.”
The defendants will appear in court again on Sept. 30, in order to select a date for a trail, which will likely begin early next year.
Contact reporter Kristopher Anderson at firstname.lastname@example.org.