SANTA CRUZ – A lengthy court hearing to determine whether four people charged with the kidnapping and murder of a Santa Cruz tech entrepreneur will stand trial began on Tuesday.
Pleasure Point resident Tushar Atre, 50, was found dead from a gunshot wound in one of his country houses in the Santa Cruz mountains on October 1, 2019, hours after guests at his home reported that he had been kidnapped by several men before sunrise. Following reports of a verbal squabble at around 3 a.m., guests who were awakened by the argument said they heard two cars leaving, including a white BMW SUV owned by a friend of Atra, Santa Cruz County sheriffs deputies said on Tuesday.
Atre was the CEO of the web design company AtreNet, which he founded in 1996. He was also the owner of Interstitial Systems, a licensed Santa Cruz-based cannabis grower.
Defendants Joshua Camps, Stephen Lindsey and brothers Curtis and Caleb Charters are brought before Santa Cruz County Superior Court Justice John Salazar in a preliminary hearing that is expected to last a week. Caleb Charters of St. Clair Shores, Michigan and Stephen Lindsay of Burbank were former employees of Atre’s Interstitial Systems.
Many of the lawyers’ questions on Tuesday focused on interviews with Atre’s partner investigators, who spoke of the numerous negative interactions he had with several employees. Santa Cruz County Deputy District Attorney Tara George assigned one Deputy Attorney five different firearms and a blue sedan – similar to the car seen in the videotapes behind a gas station – found at the Camps home. CCTV footage outside the Atre Pinje Point home showed three men – one with a rifle – in the neighborhood at the time of the reported abduction.
The deputies who testify also spoke to several contractors who lived in Atre’s house and last saw their employer at around 9:30 am the night before. When they got home around 1:30, they saw a white BMW Atre SUV parked in the driveway. Atre’s body, whose hands were cuffed behind his back with plastic handcuffs, was found on his grounds in San Jose in Soquel by 9 am.
Similar plastic handcuffs were found in Defendant Camp’s home following the arrest of him and three other defendants in May 2020.
At the request of the defenders, the morning began with a refusal to request the media to take videos or photographs of the imprisoned defendants, handcuffed and dressed in bright orange overalls. Lawyers argued that the spectacle could harm potential future jurors.
Together with four additional deputies, the bailiff shared his concerns about the release of all the accused, noting that “I have four accused here, and all of them, as far as I understand, were involved in each other throughout this process.” According to reports of behavior in the prison, the three were allowed to leave one hand free for writing and one hand was handcuffed.