Steven Carter pleaded not guilty Wednesday to three counts of murder and three counts of using a firearm, allegedly as a gang member. Carter's friend, Jerald Hunter, was his sole supporter in the courtroom and says "there must be some mistake or something." Jacob Rascon reports from the Inland Empire for the NBC4 News at 5 p.m. on Nov. 28, 2012.
The suspect in what police call a botched home invasion that left three men dead in Ontario on Sunday was a "great guy" who "never joined a gang," a close friend of the man told NBC4 on Wednesday.
Steven David Carter, of Upland, was arraigned in San Bernardino County court on Wednesday. He pleaded not guilty to three counts of murder and three counts of using a firearm, allegedly as a gang member.
"I know him as Steve. I've known him since high school," said Jerald Hunter, the sole Carter supporter in the courtroom.
"I was shocked. ... There must be some mistake or misunderstanding," Hunter said. "He's such a nice guy and very helpful and well loved."
Carter acknowledged Hunter with a head nod before deputies led Carter out of the courtroom. Hunter told NBC4 he'll attend Carter's every court appearance, waiting for Carter's name to be cleared.
Carter is a “great father. He was always there for (his two children), making sure his family came first," Hunter said. "You couldn't ask for a better friend."
Police said Carter and two men – Albert Lamar Thomas, 25, and Aaron Phillips Andrews, 25, – targeted Brandon Perez, 31, at his Ontario home in the 1000 Block of South Magnolia Avenue. He appeared to be the target of a robbery, police said.
Perez apparently fought back and authorities said everyone but Carter ended up shot dead. Andrews was found dead in the driveway, and Thomas was found dead inside the home, police said.
Police discovered marijuana and equipment to grow it in Perez's house.
It's unclear who shot whom, police said. But whoever pulled the trigger, prosecutors will hold Carter responsible for the deaths of all three men. The murder charges each carry a penalty of 25 years to life in prison.
Carter’s pre-preliminary hearing is set for Dec. 5. His preliminary hearing is scheduled for Dec. 10.