Slain Modesto store clerk’s family speaks in court

08/14/2014 3:57 PM

08/14/2014 3:58 PM

Harinder Sanghera was known to start tabs for customers at his family’s convenience store on South Ninth Street in Modesto. The 28-year-old store clerk would sometimes reach into his own pocket to help customers in need.

“And he may have even helped you,” T.J. Sanghera, the clerk’s cousin, told the two men responsible for his shooting death.

He said in a courtroom Thursday that the two men decided to take his cousin’s life in an attempt to steal a few hundred dollars from the family’s store. “Yes, let me say that again – because of money... a few measly hundred dollars,” T.J. Sanghera said about the motive behind his cousin’s killing.

Mark Burgess and Ernesto Morales Jr. have been convicted in Harinder Sanghera’s death. He was gunned down Dec. 4, 2009, while working at the Gas N Shop Market.

Burgess, 27, pleaded guilty to first-degree murder and agreed with prosecutors to a sentence of 28 years to life in prison. He received 25 years to life in prison for the murder charge and an additional three years for using a gun to commit the crime.

Morales, 25, pleaded no contest to second-degree murder under an agreement to testify against Burgess had his case gone to trial. Morales was sentenced to 15 years to life in prison.

In exchange for their pleas, prosecutors dropped an attempted robbery charge against each defendant. Had they been convicted of all charges by a jury, the defendants would have faced a maximum sentence of life in prison without parole.

Before the defendants were formally sentenced Thursday morning, the store clerk’s family had an opportunity to speak in court about the impact of his death.

T.J. Sanghera said his family is very private and felt uncomfortable publicly discussing the life-changing effects his cousin’s death have had. The family, however, decided to speak in court to honor Harinder. “To give him a voice that has now been silenced,” the clerk’s cousin said.

He said in court that there are no adequate words to describe the pain, anger and despair his family has felt in the past five years. Known to his family as “Harj,” the store clerk would do anything to help his family or friends.

Not long before the murder, Sanghera’s mother died from leukemia. His ashes were scattered where his mother’s ashes were scattered in India.

T.J. Sanghera said his cousin was shot multiple times. “This was no accident; this was murder,” he said.

The defendants showed no remorse, he said, running from the store after the shooting and hiding from authorities for two years.

Statements made in court during a hearing last year indicated the defendants drove from Merced to Modesto to commit the crime. The store was on the south end of a commercial strip lined with auto repair shops, industrial supply businesses, liquor stores and motels.

Sanghera was a few weeks shy of his 29th birthday when he was killed that afternoon while working behind the front counter at his family’s convenience store.

His family posted photos of Sanghera and sketches of the suspects, hoping to find those responsible. Nearly two years after the fatal shooting, Burgess and Morales were in custody.

Stanislaus Superior Court Judge Dawna Reeves told Burgess he should recognize that he devastated Sanghera’s family, along with his own family, when he shot and killed the store clerk. “I hope you would reflect on that as you serve your sentence,” the judge him.

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