The San Diego Christmas Eve triple murder case took a shocking turn Tuesday as Carlo Mercado, the lone suspect in the gunshot slayings of Salvatore Belvedere, Gianni Belvedere and Ilona Flint, faced the first day of a preliminary hearing, after which a judge will decide whether there is enough evidence for Mercado to face a trial in the killings — trial that could bring him the death penalty.
Evidence presented in Tuesday’s testimony linked Mercado to the killings through DNA evidence, but also painted the three young victims as hardcore drug users and even raised the possibility that 24-year-old Gianni Belvedere could have had something to do with the shooting deaths of his brother Salvatore and fiancée Ilona Flint, both 22, before he was then killed, allegedly by Mercado.
But even with the startling new details, made public for the first time at the hearing, San Diego police and prosecutors still offered no motive for the triple murder. Though San Diego Homicide Detective Timothy Norris testified that Gianni Belvedere used heroin on a daily basis and spent about $250 per day on his drug habit, there was no evidence that any of the three victims had outstanding drug debts.
Ilona Flint was also a heroin user, Norris testified, while Salvatore Belvedere had returned from an out-of-state heroin addiction treatment program just a week before he was shot to death in the early morning hours of December 24.
Gianni normally picked up his high-school sweetheart-turned-fiancée Flint from the Mission Valley Mall where she worked in a shoe store, but she could not reach him that night, despite calling him several times, according to testimony in the hearing.
She called three separate hospitals and the county jail, and then called the Belvedere family home, after which Salvatore came to pick her up.
For some reason, Salvatore and his brother’s fiancée sat in the car in the mall parking lot for about 20 minutes before someone shot them. Witnesses said they saw a man with curly hair walking away from the car. But Carlo Mercado, who is of Filipino descent, has straight hair.
Questioned by Mercado’s attorneys, the homicide detective admitted that the witnesses who said they saw the curly-haired man later identified him as Gianni Belvedere, after seeing Gianni’s photograph on television.
Norris also said that Gianni Belvedere had purchased heroin from a female drug dealer earlier that evening.
Flint had evidence of evidence in her system when she died, a county medical examiner said. Dr. Steven Campman also said that a lighter was found between Flint’s legs and a bag containing pills was found in the vehicle.
Some of those pills were identified as Xanax. Gianni Belvedere had purchased 11 Xanax pills from a drug dealer a about 11 pm, according to testimony.
Gianni Belvedere’s body was discovered in the trunk of a car in Riverside California on January 17. DNA samples from a bottle of Febreze air freshener apparently used to cover the odor from the decomposing corpse was later found to match Carlo Mercado’s DNA profile, according to a a search warrant made public at Tuesday’s hearing, leading to his arrest in the San Diego triple murder case.