SACRAMENTO — Nikolay Soltys, accused in the bloody slayings of six family members, has been charged with a seventh murder--that of his unborn child, prosecutors said Tuesday.
Sacramento County Dist. Atty. Jan Scully made the surprise announcement just hours before Soltys stood under heavy guard for his first court appearance since his capture last week.
Shackled and wearing orange jail garb, Soltys kept his head bowed throughout the six-minute arraignment, never glancing toward a group of surviving relatives watching solemnly from the courtroom's two front rows.
As Sacramento Superior Court Judge Patrick Marlette read the seven counts against Soltys, a translator repeated them to the onetime shoemaker, a Ukrainian immigrant whose English is limited. Soltys did not enter a plea. He was ordered to return to court Oct. 2.
Prosecutors have not decided whether to seek the death penalty, but because Soltys is charged with multiple murders, he is eligible for execution or life in prison without the possibility of parole.
"We will follow our standard procedure" in deciding which penalty to pursue, Scully said. "We will look at the defendant's background, the facts and circumstances of the case, whether there is a criminal history."
Soltys, 27, is accused in the Aug. 20 stabbing deaths of his pregnant wife, 3-year-old son and four other relatives. Placed on the FBI's 10 Most Wanted list, he dodged a nationwide manhunt before he was arrested last Thursday, barefoot and disheveled, in his mother's suburban Sacramento backyard.
Under the state's fetal homicide law, prosecutors can charge Soltys for his unborn child's murder if they can show the fetus was 7 to 8 weeks old, Scully said.
Autopsy reports confirming the age of Lyubov Soltys' unborn child were not yet available, Scully said, but detectives have said she was three months' pregnant at the time of her death.
Elisabeth Semel, director of the death penalty clinic at UC Berkeley's Boalt Hall law school, said a homicide charge in the death of a fetus is "rare but not unique.
"In this case, it's hardly surprising," Semel said. "Whether they ultimately pursue [the charge] remains to be seen."
Speaking to reporters after Tuesday's hearing, Soltys' court-appointed public defender said that his client was examined by a psychological expert over the weekend "to assess his state of mind."
Attorney Tommy Clinkenbeard would not comment on Soltys' mental competency to stand trial but noted that an insanity defense was "of course" among his options.
Another option, he said, is a motion to suppress the confession sources say Soltys made during an interrogation shortly after his arrest. Clinkenbeard said he has "serious concerns" that his client's rights were in jeopardy because he had no lawyer present during the questioning.
Ultimately, a judge ordered the Sacramento County Sheriff's Department to inform Soltys that an attorney was available to speak with him. Soltys then asked to see a public defender, but the questioning was already over.
"I'm not real happy about being denied access for two days," Clinkenbeard said. "Normally, in serious felonies like this, we have access even before we're appointed by the court."
Sheriff's officials insist that Soltys' right to counsel during the interrogation was made clear to him, in English and Ukrainian. But Clinkenbeard said "language barriers and major cultural differences" might have confused his client.
"It's clear to me that the whole criminal justice system in our country is a mystery to him," he said.
Scully said raising claims about a client being denied representation is a "common tactic" of defense lawyers. She would not comment on whether it might damage the prosecution's case.
Among those in the courtroom Tuesday were two cousins of Soltys, Boris and Sergey Kukharskiy. The two brothers, each of whom lost a child and their parents in the rampage, declined to comment and left court through a back door.
Scully said relatives of the slain family members were receiving support from the district attorney's victim assistance program, including help with funeral expenses.
In the biggest manhunt in Sacramento County history, Soltys eluded authorities for 10 days before he was found hiding in his mother's backyard.
He is charged with slashing to death his 22-year-old wife, then driving his silver Nissan across town and slaying his uncle, Petr Kukharskiy, 75; an aunt, Galina Kukharskaya, 74; and two cousins, Dimitriy Kukharskiy and Tatyana Kukharskaya, both 9.
Detectives say Soltys then drove to his mother's house and picked up his son, Sergey. The toddler's blood-splattered body was found the next day in a cardboard box. His throat had been slashed.