A 23-year-old man has been arrested in connection with the fatal stabbing of a store clerk in California that police are investigating as a possible hate crime, authorities said.
Lester Portillo was booked Friday on murder charges in the death of Jagjeet Singh, who was working at Hatch Food and Gas in Modesto, California, when he died the night of May 4, according to the Modesto Police Department and court records.
Police said in a statement that preliminary findings of its investigation suggest Portillo and Singh, 32, had gotten into a verbal argument over the sale of cigarettes. Portillo left the store and drove away, according to police, returning in his car a short time later wearing different clothing.
Singh was securing the business after closing when Portillo approached Singh and allegedly stabbed him, police said. He died at a local hospital.
Modesto is about 92 miles east of San Francisco.
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Heather Graves, a Modesto Police Department spokeswoman, said last week that police were investigating the possibility that the stabbing may have been a hate crime. Singh was of South Asian descent.
Asked on Monday about a hate crime investigation, Graves told NBC News: “It definitely is on-going and obviously we present everything that we can to the district attorney’s office, and then they can determine whether or not additional charges will be sought.”
A voicemail left early Monday afternoon with the Stanislaus County district attorney’s office was not immediately returned.
According to online court records, Portillo was being held without bail. Attorney information for Portillo was not immediately known.
Originally, police said they were seeking a second suspect, but that changed as the investigation evolved, Graves said.
“We determined that there was only him (Portillo) involved, that he had changed clothes between the confrontation inside the store and then him coming back a second time,” she said.
According to a crowdfunding page set up for Jagjeet Singh's family, he was married and had two sons ages 7 and 9. He arrived in the United States two years ago and was a cheerful and lively person, the posting said.
Singh's wife and children reportedly live in India, according to the Modesto Bee, which quoted the store manager.
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