SAN JOSE, Calif. — Former UFC fighter Cain Velasquez has officially pleaded not guilty to attempted murder, assault and weapons, alleging that in February he chased and then shot an accused man of assaulting her young son and ended up injuring the man’s stepfather.
Velasquez pleaded Friday in a San Jose courtroom accompanied by his attorneys Alexandra Kazarian and Renee Hessling, with several family members and supporters seated in the courtroom gallery.
A preliminary hearing – the hearing at which a judge decides whether there is enough evidence for a case to go to trial – has been set for September 26.
Velasquez, dressed in brown jail clothes and wearing a surgical mask over his face, was visibly attentive during the hearing and stood up when he told Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Jessica Delgado , “Yes, I do” when she asked him to check his plea and he understood that he was waiving his right to take the preliminary examination within 10 days.
He briefly waved to his supporters before being escorted back to San Jose’s main jail, where he is being held without bond. His lead attorney, Mark Geragos, who was not in court Friday, asked the Sixth District Court of Appeals to overturn the county superior court’s refusal to bail Velasquez.
The prosecution and the court cited public safety concerns to oppose his release from prison. Geragos has repeatedly argued that high bail, electronic monitoring and restraining orders for the charged victims of the Feb. 28 shooting would be sufficient to ensure Velasquez’s safety and court appearances.
He also offered Velasquez to go to an out-of-state rehab facility, after calling the 40-year-old’s actions a response to family trauma compounded by a traumatic brain injury suffered during his career in mixed martial arts. Velasquez fought in San Jose and won two UFC heavyweight title belts.
Judge Shelyna Brown rejected alternatives to jail proposed by Geragos, decisions he called “unconstitutional” in his appeal, which as of Friday had not yielded a response from the appeals court.
According to police and prosecutors, on February 28, Velasquez followed Paul Bender and Patricia Goularte as they drove from their home in San Martin to Morgan Hill, where they would pick up their son Harry Goularte Jr. and take him to San Jose to get fitted for an ankle monitor.
Goularte Jr., 43, was charged in February with one count of lewd and lascivious acts with a child who has since been widely identified as Velasquez’s 4-year-old son. The child told his parents about being assaulted by Goularte Jr. at a San Martin home daycare run by his mother. Goularte Jr. was arrested on February 25 and a judge granted him a supervised release.
On February 28, when Bender and Goularte were meeting Goularte Jr. at Morgan Hill, Velasquez allegedly drove to their vehicle and shot him with a handgun, then followed them as they drove away. The chase ended near Monterey Highway and Bailey Road on the southern outskirts of San Jose, where Velasquez allegedly fired several shots at the family, injuring Bender. Velasquez was arrested a short distance away by San Jose police.
During Friday’s hearing, prosecutor Aaron French argued with Velasquez’s lawyers about their request for evidence and discovery of the Goularte case, which they said was important for them to mount a effective defense for Velasquez.
French argued that the district attorney’s office needed to be selective about what information it could release to maintain the integrity of the separate prosecution.
“This case is an ongoing lawsuit, an ongoing investigation,” French said.
He also claimed he had no intention of calling Goularte as a witness in Velasquez’s prosecution, which he says renders parts of what the defense is asking irrelevant.
Hessling said the position is “fundamentally a problem” and that “much of what happened is based on statements that Harry Goularte has made to other people”.
“To say he should be completely excised from this equation and pretend he doesn’t exist…is a fiction,” Hessling added. “It’s fundamentally unfair to Mr. Velasquez. (Goularte) is going to play a role and I think there are statements he made to detectives or other insightful witnesses that need to be explored by the defense.
Delgado has scheduled a court hearing for August 29 to decide the discovery issue.
In his bail appeal, Geragos seized on the prosecution’s plans not to call Goularte Jr. to testify in the Velasquez case. He said that combined with Bender and Patricia Goularte invoking their Fifth Amendment rights in a lawsuit Velasquez filed against them and Goularte Jr. over the assault allegations, the district attorney’s office did not sufficiently evidence to continue to deny Velasquez bail.
French previously said in court that Geragos’ argument was speculative and confused criminal and civil court proceedings, and that any action in the lawsuit had no bearing on the public safety rationale cited by him and Judge Brown. in three bail hearings.
A preliminary examination of Goularte in the indecent assault case is scheduled for September 20.