Dennis Potts, 23, of Bonita, faces charges of murder and conspiracy to obstruct justice in what could become a death penalty case. His friend, 23-year-old Max Corn, also of Bonita, pleaded not guilty Thursday to a conspiracy charge.
Both men were arrested Wednesday in connection with the deaths of Tori Vienneau, 22, and her son, Dean Springstube, whose bodies were found July 26, 2006, in their apartment in the Southcrest neighborhood of San Diego. The victims were strangled.
If convicted, Corn faces a maximum sentence of three years in prison.
Prosecutors have not yet decided whether to seek Potts' execution or life without the possibility of parole if he is convicted of murder. Such decisions are usually made after a preliminary hearing, when a judge decides whether there is enough evidence for the case to proceed to trial.
Judge David M. Szumowski ordered Potts to remain in custody without bail, noting the two victims in the case and the seriousness of the charges. The judge increased Corn's bail to $500,000 from $200,000.
Deputy District Attorney Per Hellstrom said in court that Potts and Vienneau had a “secret” relationship and she believed he was the father of her son. In spring 2006, she asked Potts to take a paternity test.
Potts agreed to use a mail-in test, but asked Corn to submit the DNA sample, the prosecutor said. When the results showed that Potts was not the baby's father, Vienneau suspected that something was wrong.
“She was concerned that Mr. Potts had faked or tampered with the DNA testing,” Hellstrom told the judge. “She didn't let the issue go.”
Thirteen days later, Vienneau and her son were killed.
Hellstrom said investigators recovered text messages exchanged between Potts and Vienneau the evening of the slaying and recovered Potts' data from a cell-phone tower near her apartment.
Outside the courtroom, Kerry Armstrong – Potts' lawyer – said the relationship between Potts and Vienneau was no secret and that Potts had known about the investigation for the past year and a half.
“He has been adamant from day one that he had nothing to do with these crimes,” Armstrong said.
The prosecutor would not comment on why it took more than a year for investigators to make an arrest.
“In due time, that will come out,” Hellstrom said after the hearing.
Vienneau's mother, Dayna Herroz, said it is satisfying to see Potts and Corn face criminal charges. She said the long wait has been “hell on Earth” for her and her family.