SACRAMENTO, Calif. – A 19-year-old Northern California man accused of fatally stabbing his sister-in-law and young niece and nephew was formally charged with three counts of murder Friday at his first court appearance.
Authorities have yet to release a motive, but Grigoriy Bukhantsov's attorney said after the hearing that his client appears to have psychological problems and a history of drug and alcohol abuse.
Bukhantsov faces the possibility of the death penalty, but Sacramento County Assistant Chief Deputy District Attorney Stephen Grippi said it could be several months before prosecutors decide whether they'll pursue it.
"That decision will be made after a much more complete evaluation," Grippi said. "We have to do a full investigation of his background."
Bukhantsov was arrested early Wednesday, hours after his older brother returned to his suburban Rancho Cordova home to find his 23-year-old wife, Alina Bukhantsov, dead along with their 3-year-old daughter, Emmanuela, and 2-year-old son, Avenir. The couple's 6-month-old baby, Mark, was found unharmed in a crib.
Alina and her son both died of stab wounds to the neck and torso, the Sacramento County coroner's office said Friday. Emmanuela died of stab wounds to the chest.
Sacramento County sheriff's spokesman Sgt. Jason Ramos said investigators recovered several knives.
"We recovered at least one knife from the scene, as well as several other things that could possibly be murder weapons, but they have to do the testing on them to make sure," Ramos said Friday.
Supervising Assistant Public Defender John Perkins said he visited Grigoriy Bukhantsov in jail before Friday's brief court hearing.
"It's obviously a tragedy for the family, everybody involved in the case," Perkins told reporters outside the courtroom after the hearing. "He's distraught, very confused."
Perkins said it was appropriate that his client was being held in a psychiatric unit at the county jail, where he was being watched closely to make sure he doesn't harm himself.
"Obviously we're going to vigorously defend all aspects of the case," Perkins said. Later, he added, "It appears that we have maybe a psychological history, and some mental health issue," along with reports from the family that Bukhantsov had a history of using drugs and alcohol.
Bukhantsov also has a prior conviction for a 2011 residential burglary in which he pleaded no contest to stealing a woman's iPod from her bathroom.
The suspect, dressed in an orange jail jumpsuit, did not enter a plea during his initial court appearance. He kept his eyes cast on the floor, looking up only briefly to acknowledge his name inside a heavily guarded courtroom in the county jail. Four bailiffs stood with him inside a cage.
Bukhantsov's next hearing was scheduled for Nov. 26.
Sheriff's homicide Sgt. Jim Barnes said Bukhantsov has refused to discuss the deaths and investigators have not determined a motive.
Deputies say the suspect had a troubled relationship with his family, and court records show his parents and siblings sought restraining orders because they were afraid of him. He repeatedly threatened to stab, shoot and burn them to death, struck his relatives, punched holes in walls and showed signs of using drugs and alcohol, family members said in the court filings.
Alina Bukhantsov's husband, Denis Bukhantsov, said his brother was calm when he showed up at the family's home Monday night seeking shelter from a rainstorm.
Barnes said the suspect showed no signs of intoxication when he was arrested, but drug test results are pending.