Two men on Wednesday pleaded not guilty to charges of murder, arson and burglary in the deaths of a Modesto couple who were found inside their burning home last month.
Authorities believe Brandon Pettit and Felix Valverde are responsible for the deaths of Pettit’s parents, Scott and Janet Pettit. Prosecutors allege that the defendants committed the murders for financial gain.
A filed criminal complaint indicates the Pettits were shot in their home. Only Valverde has been charged with an enhancement, alleging he used a gun in the Pettits’ deaths.
During the brief arraignment hearing, the defendants also denied enhancements to their charges. The charges include special circumstances that make the case eligible for the death penalty.
Prosecutor Sam Getrich told the judge Wednesday that the district attorney’s office has not yet decided whether to seek the death penalty in this case.
Stanislaus County Superior Court Judge Dawna Reeves scheduled the defendants to return to court Nov. 6 for a pretrial hearing. The defendants remain in custody at the Stanislaus County Jail.
Scott and Janet Pettit were found by firefighters battling a blaze in the bedroom of their home in the early hours of Aug. 8. Police announced the following day that the well-known couple were murdered, and investigators arrested Pettit and Valverde eight days later.
Modesto police officials have said Brandon Pettit was at work when the fire started at his parents’ home, but authorities say there is evidence of both men conspiring to commit the crimes, though they have not said what roles the defendants had in the homicide or fire.
Investigators have said they believe the fire at the Divan Court home was started to cover up the murders, and they have confirmed that the victims were dead before the fire started.
Janet Pettit was a neonatal nurse practitioner and clinical nurse at Doctors Medical Center. She also worked as assistant nurse manager in maternal and child health at Kaiser Permanente Modesto Medical Center.
Scott Pettit taught martial arts to hundreds of children and adults. He owned Riverbank Black Belt Academy on Santa Fe Street for nearly 10 years and previously had other locations throughout the county. He was Riverbank’s citizen of the year in 2007.