A 23-year-old man accused of stabbing to death a clerk at a south Modesto convenience store made his first court appearance Monday afternoon.
Lester Antonio Portillo, of Modesto, is charged with murder in the death of 32-year-old Jagjeet Singh, 32, who was working as a clerk at Hatch Food & Gas store. The charge includes a special circumstances allegation, accusing Portillo of waiting for Singh before the stabbing.
The special circumstances allegation makes the case eligible for the death penalty. Deputy District Attorney Blythe Harris told the judge that the Stanislaus County District Attorney’s Office has not decided whether it will seek the death penalty against Portillo.
Chief Deputy Public Defender Sonny Sandhu entered a not guilty on behalf of his client, Portillo, and denied the special circumstances allegation and enhancements alleging premeditation and the use of a deadly weapon in the clerk’s killing.
Superior Court Judge Ricardo Córdova scheduled the defendant to return to court Friday for a pretrial hearing. Portillo remains in custody at the county jail.
The deadly stabbing occurred about 11:45 p.m. May 4 just outside the convenience store on West Hatch Road, just west of Dallas Street. About 30 minutes earlier, a man came into the store and argued with Singh over the sale of cigarettes, Modesto police has said.
The man left the store and drove away. Singh was stabbed outside the store as he was closing the business. The clerk, an immigrant from India who had only been in the U.S. for 18 months, was rushed to a local hospital where he died.