Two men pleaded not guilty Friday to slaying the father and sister of a former girlfriend of one of them and the severe beating of her mother at the family's Anaheim Hills home in May.
Iftekhar Murtaza, 22, of Van Nuys, and Vitaliy Krasnoperov, 21, of West Hollywood, are charged with two counts of murder and one of attempted murder in the May 21 deaths of Jayprakash and Karishma Dhanak, the father and older sister of Shayona Dhanak, an 18-year-old UC Irvine student who had dated Murtaza.
Both also pleaded not guilty to special-circumstance allegations of murder during a kidnapping and committing multiple murders.
Murtaza was upset that Shayona Dhanak's family had pushed her to end their relationship because her family was Hindu and his Muslim, according to the arrest warrant. Murtaza and Krasnoperov appeared together at Friday's arraignment, wearing orange jumpsuits and uttering few words.
Krasnoperov made sustained eye contact with his mother, Tatyana Krasnoperova, who responded with hesitant waves and kisses.
Murtaza and Krasnoperov were friends and had worked together at Murtaza's loan company in the San Fernando Valley.
Leela Dhanak, 53, was found late at night on May 21 in a neighbor's yard, bludgeoned and unconscious. Her family's home was set on fire.
Several hours later, authorities in Irvine discovered the bodies of her husband, Jayprakash, 56, and daughter Karishma, 20, strangled, burned and stabbed, according to court records.
Leela Dhanak remains hospitalized with severe head injuries.
Anaheim police Sgt. Rick Martinez said there could be more arrests.
Because the investigation continues, the case will not go to trial until next year, said Jim Appel, one of two public defenders representing Murtaza.
U.S. marshals detained Murtaza at Sky Harbor International Airport in Phoenix days after the slayings as he prepared to fly to Bangladesh. Authorities later arrested him and extradited him to Orange County.