Suspect in Modesto store clerk murder may enter insanity plea

rahumada@modbee.comApril 25, 2013 

  • ABOUT THE REPORTER
    Rosalio Ahumada
    Title: Courts reporter
    Coverage areas: Criminal cases, breaking news
    Bio: Rosalio Ahumada has been a reporter at The Bee for more than seven years, previously covering crime and public safety issues. He also has worked at the Merced Sun-Star, covering education.
    Recent stories written by Rosalio
    On Twitter: @ModBeeCourts
    E-mail: rahumada@modbee.com

It's possible a defendant next month will plea not guilty by reason of insanity to a charge of murder in the shooting death of a Modesto store clerk during an attempted robbery in 2009.

Mark Burgess, 25, and Ernesto Morales Jr., 24, both of Merced, are accused of the murder of Harinder Sanghera, 28, of Ceres. Sanghera was killed Dec. 4, 2009, while working at the Gas N Shop Market in the 800 block of South Ninth Street.

The co-defendants are being prosecuted separately. Morales' trial is scheduled to start Sept. 23 in Stanislaus County Superior Court.

Burgess appeared in court Thursday for a pretrial hearing. His defense attorney, Marlon Simon, told the judge his client will likely change his plea to indicate Burgess was suffering from mental illness when the alleged crime occurred.

Judge Dawna Reeves postponed Thursday's hearing until May 15. She said she needs to determine which doctors will be appointed by the court to examine the defendant's mental health before she allows Burgess to change his plea.

The judge asked the defendant whether he understood what was being discussed in court, because she said he appeared a little groggy.

Burgess responded, "I took my meds today."

When Reeves asked if he understood everything said in court Thursday, Burgess answered, "No, not really."

The judge asked the defense attorney to take some time to explain to his client what was discussed in court and the change of his plea. Simon told the judge that he will visit Burgess at the county jail and make sure he understands everything.

Bee staff writer Rosalio Ahumada can be reached at rahumada@modbee.com or (209) 578-2394.

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