Friends said Deondre Staten is a soft-spoken young man who hoped to deliver an anti-drug message through his fledgling rap group. Family members said he is deeply religious and enjoyed helping out at his parents' beauty salon.
But prosecutors last week contended that he was a one-time gang member who executed his parents at their Valinda home in an elaborate plot to collect several hundred thousand dollars in assets and insurance policies.
Staten, 24, who could face the death penalty if convicted, pleaded not guilty Thursday to the dual murder charges in Citrus Municipal Court in West Covina.
He has been held without bail since his arrest Tuesday, nearly three months after the slayings of his parents, Arthur and Faye Staten, on the night they returned home from a 2 1/2-week vacation in Egypt.
Staten, who lived with his parents, told officers that he discovered their bodies at 1 a.m. on Oct. 13, about 15 minutes after he left the house to pick up something to eat.
But authorities, who originally said he was not a suspect, believe that Staten did a "substantial amount of pre-planning," then stabbed his 42-year-old mother and shot his 43-year-old father in the head, Deputy Dist. Atty. Richard D. Burns said.
Prosecutors contend that Staten hoped to collect on several life insurance policies and gain Najamah's Hair Salon, a beauty parlor and supply shop his parents had operated in La Puente for 11 years.
Although no murder weapon has been recovered, Burns said he will link Staten to the crimes with evidence from fingerprints, blood analyses, handwriting samples and testimony from firearms experts. A preliminary hearing will be scheduled next month.
"I believe he was planning on doing this for some period of time and the method in which it was done is consistent with that," Burns said.
However, Staten's paternal grandmother, Korea Staten, said outside the courtroom that her grandson is a religious man who cared deeply about his parents.
"He's just a beautiful young man . . . very loving . . . really loyal," the 60-year-old woman said. "I don't believe he did it."
A key factor in the case will probably be interpretation of what appeared to be gang graffiti spray-painted inside the family room and on the ground in the back yard.
The graffiti could be viewed either as the signature of an invading gang or as a decoy to disguise the identity of the real killer, Burns said.
"There is spray-painting there," he said. "It all depends on how you evaluate it."