Preliminary hearing begins in Santa Cruz tech entrepreneur killing – Santa Cruz Sentinel
SANTA CRUZ — A lengthy court hearing designed to determine if four men charged with kidnapping and killing a Santa Cruz tech entrepreneur will face trial launched Tuesday.
Pleasure Point resident Tushar Atre, 50, was found dead of a gunshot wound on one of his rural Santa Cruz Mountains properties Oct. 1, 2019, hours after guests at his home reported that he had been kidnapped by multiple men before sunrise. After a reported verbal altercation around 3 a.m., the guests — who were woken from sleeping by the argument — said they heard two vehicles leave, including a white BMW SUV owned by Atre’s girlfriend, Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Office deputies testified Tuesday.
Atre was the CEO of web-design company AtreNet, which he founded in 1996. He also was the owner of Interstitial Systems, a Santa Cruz-based licensed cannabis manufacturer.
Defendants Joshua Camps, Stephen Lindsey and brothers Kurtis and Kaleb Charters appeared before Santa Cruz County Superior Court Judge John Salazar for what is expected to be a week-long preliminary hearing. Kaleb Charters, of St. Clair Shores, Michigan, and Stephen Lindsay, of Burbank, were both former employees of Atre’s Interstitial Systems.
Much of defense attorneys’ questions Tuesday focused on investigators’ interviews of Atre’s associates, who shared numerous negative interactions he had with several employees. Santa Cruz County Chief Deputy District Attorney Tara George had one deputy detail five different firearms and a blue sedan — similar to a vehicle seen in gas station surveillance footage — found at the home of Camps. Surveillance footage from near Atre’s Pleasure Point home showed three men — one carrying a rifle — in the neighborhood at the reported time of the kidnapping.
Testifying deputies also spoke with several contract employees who were staying at Atre’s home and had last seen their employer around 9:30 the night prior. When they arrived back at the home around 1:30, they saw Atre’s white BMW SUV parked in the driveway. Atre’s body, with his arms restrained behind his back by plastic cuffs, was discovered on his Soquel San Jose property by 9 a.m.
Similar plastic cuffs were recovered from defendant Camp’s home after his and the other three defendants’ arrests in May 2020.
At the request of defense attorneys, the morning began with a denial of a media request to take video recordings or photographs of the jailed defendants, who were shackled and dressed in bright orange jumpsuits. Attorneys argued that the sight could be prejudicial to potential future jurors.
Keeping company with four additional deputies, a courtroom bailiff shared his concerns about unshackling all the defendants, noting that “I have four defendants here, all of them, to my understanding, have implicated each other in different ways throughout this.” Based on jail house conduct reports, three were allowed to have one arm free to write and one arm shackled.
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