RANCHO CUCAMONGA - Steven Carter, the suspect in this week's triple homicide in Ontario, pleaded not guilty to three counts of murder during an arraignment Wednesday afternoon in West Valley Superior Court.
Carter, 34, also denied special allegations of use of a firearm and gang involvement during a crime.
Carlo Dicesare, San Bernardino County deputy district attorney, said he couldn't elaborate about the gang allegations because the investigation was ongoing.
Carter, whose bail was set at $5.2 million, is scheduled to be back in court on Wednesday for a pre-preliminary hearing. He has yet to be assigned a defense lawyer.
The Upland man is facing 25 years to life for each murder count, plus 25 years to life for the gun allegations, Dicesare said.
Carter was arrested Tuesday morning for his alleged involvement in the shooting the day before in which three people were found dead at a residence in the 1000 block of South Magnolia Avenue in Ontario.
The California felony-murder rule makes a defendant liable for murder if he or an accomplice kills another person, even accidentally, during the commission of certain felonies, according to the state Penal Code.
Jerald Hunter, a friend of Carter's who attended the arraignment on Wednesday, said he was shocked by the charges against his friend and described Carter as "very well loved, a very nice guy.
"There must be some mistake," Hunter said.
Hunter, 33, of Upland said he has known Carter since junior high school.
"I've never known him to be a part of a gang," Hunter said.
Ontario police officers said the deaths stemmed from a botched home invasion robbery.
The incident was likely related to drugs, officials said, as officers took about 20 pounds of marijuana from the house.
However, only murder charges have been filed at this point.
Additional charges can still be added, Dicesare said, but police officers are still gathering evidence and investigating the crime scene.
"This is incredibly preliminary," he said.
"We'll come back and see what's happening."
Police officers responded at 6:15 a.m. Monday to the Ontario home after receiving a report that an unconscious man - later identified as Aaron Philip Andrews, 25, of Upland - lying in a driveway with a gunshot wound.
Police officers found two more bodies inside the house.
One of those, Brandon Perez, 31, who lived in a back house at the address, appeared to be the target of the robbery, police officers said.
Also found dead was another of Carter's apparent accomplices, Albert Lamar Thomas, 25, of Ontario.
The sister of Perez said in an email Wednesday that her brother was a gainfully employed paralegal working for a well-known law firm. He was also a devoted father and a good man.
"No drugs have been linked to him," Elizabeth Park Suarez said. "He worked so much. He was never home."
Suarez said the lead detective on the case called her mother and told her that the reports of drugs being taken from the home were incorrect.
But police officers are standing by their statement that more than 20 pounds of marijuana as well as cultivating equipment were taken from the house following the homicide.
"This case is getting so much attention that we get briefed by detectives several times a day," police Sgt. David McBride said. "The circumstances released are facts, not conjecture."
Staff reporter Doug Saunders contributed to this report.