HANFORD — It was a somber scene Friday morning in Kings County Superior Court as Todd Pate pleaded not guilty during his arraignment on charges that he murdered his wife, Melanie Pate.
The Hanford day care operator and active youth baseball supporter was found submerged in the couple’s backyard pool Monday with her throat slit.
Investigators say they recovered the body after Todd Pate called the Hanford Police Department and told a dispatcher that he had killed his wife and needed somebody to come out to their home on Nutmeg Place.
Friday’s arraignment was short and to the point, lasting less than five minutes.
Several Melanie Pate supporters, wearing T-shirts that said “#TeamMelanie — Our Angel in the Outfield” and purple ribbons signifying spousal abuse, were sitting in the Department 3 courtroom as two Kings County Sheriff’s deputies escorted in Pate.
Wearing leg and wrist shackles and a striped jail jumpsuit, Pate’s face appeared emotionless as Judge Donna Tarter read the charges against him. They include murder with special allegations of torture and heinousness — charges that allow prosecutors to seek the death penalty.
When Tarter asked Pate if he understood the charges, he answered, “Not exactly.”
When asked if he could afford to hire his own attorney, Pate answered, “No.” The court then appointed Visalia attorney Stephen Girardot to serve as his lawyer.
Girardot entered a not guilty plea and denied the torture allegations. A pre-trial hearing was set for Sept. 12 at 8:15 a.m.
Several people wearing “TeamMelanie” T-shirts declined to comment. Judy Griffith, one of the group, indicated that many of them knew Todd and Melanie Pate from their son Karter’s Little League involvement.
“I think it’s hard for all us because we were friends with both,” Griffith said. “We’re thinking of his son right now. That’s what matters to all of us.”
Days before the killing, Melanie Pate had filed divorce papers spelling out what could have become a bitter custody battle over Karter.
After Friday’s arraignment, Chief Deputy District Attorney Larry Crouch said Pate used more than one weapon in the murder.
“It was knives plural, which we found significant,” he said.
Crouch said he had no idea whether Girardot would pursue an insanity defense, but he did raise questions about Pate’s mental condition.
“Obviously, there are some mental issues,” Crouch said. “There have been some suicide concerns.”
Girardot couldn’t be immediately reached for comment.
The reporter can be reached at 583-2432 or snidever@HanfordSentinel.com.