The long-running murder case of tech executive and cannabis entrepreneur Tushar Atre is inching closer to trial, with a Santa Cruz court setting a possible timeframe for a jury to begin hearing the case next March.
On Monday, Santa Cruz Superior Court Judge Stephen Siegel tentatively scheduled the trial to start the week of March 25, 2024, depending on the attorneys’ schedules.
Siegel on Monday also ordered hearings to determine whether the court should toss evidence in the case submitted by the prosecution because of inconsistencies in information given by law enforcement and questions over DNA results, both of which were used to help issue search warrants.
Atre, 59, was the chief executive of AtreNet, a web design and marketing firm and also ran Interstitial Systems, a cannabis business. He was fatally shot and stabbed in the Santa Cruz Mountains near his cannabis farm on Soquel San Jose Road near the summit in October 2019.
Four suspects — Stephen Lindsay, Kaleb Charters, Kurtis Charters and Joshua Camps — were arrested in May 2020 and charged with murder, kidnapping and robbery. Investigators have said that Lindsay and Kaleb Charters were former employees of Atre’s who had been in a dispute with the entrepreneur over pay.
In a court hearing Monday, Jay Rorty, the attorney for one of the defendants, Kurtis Charters, took issue with a DNA test conducted on a sock found on Atre’s driveway. Investigators have said surveillance footage from near Atre’s residence appeared to show the sock dropping from the tech entrepreneur’s body.
The DNA test was conducted by the Serological Research Institute (SERI) on behalf of the Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Department. The test was meant to help determine whether DNA from inside the sock was likely to have come from a relative of Kaleb Charters. The results were used as probable cause to issue search warrants to investigate Charters’ brother, Kurtis, who is one of the co-defendants in the case.
In Rorty’s motion filed with the court, he said the testing found the DNA had a 94% likelihood of belonging to a half-brother of Kaleb Charters and an 88% likelihood that it belonged to a cousin, but a less than 10% chance that it belonged to a full sibling of Kaleb. The finding of a low chance of a full sibling relationship was not in the final SERI report, and the prosecution did not give an explanation as to why it was omitted.
Rorty argued that omitting that full-sibling evidence from the DNA report was “deliberately misleading” and leaves the judge with a “misleading understanding of the status of the forensic investigation” into the probability that the DNA belonged to Kurtis.
McKinney argued that there has yet to be evidence before the court that shows Kurtis and Kaleb are, in fact, full siblings: “They share the same name, but that’s all the evidence this court has in front of it. I don’t think that they’ve met their burden.”
Rorty also argued Monday that Sheriff’s Office Detective Erik Miyoshi provided inconsistent information in several affidavits used to issue a variety of search warrants in the case.
The issues involve interviews that Miyoshi conducted with John Lapine, an employee of Atre’s, in October and November 2019. In a motion filed with the court, Rorty’s said that in one affidavit, Miyoshi wrote that Lapine didn’t provide the detective with the names or contact information for Kaleb Charters and co-defendant Stephen Lindsay, whom Myioshi describes in the affidavit as the “military guys.” However, in another affidavit, Miyoshi wrote that Lapine was, in fact, able to provide their names, but not their contact information.
Assistant District Attorney Michael McKinney disputed the claim that the inconsistencies were evidence that the detective had made false statements and argued that the statements by Lapine were not critical to establishing probable cause for the warrants.
Santa Cruz Superior Court Judge Stephen Siegel ordered a Dec. 4 Franks hearing into both the affidavits and whether the DNA lab provided its full report on the DNA found in the sock to the Sheriff’s Office.
A Franks hearing is meant to determine whether an officer made false statements to obtain a search warrant that yielded incriminating evidence.