San Diego triple murder suspect Carlo Mercado will stand trial for the Christmas Eve slayings of brothers Gianni and Salvatore Belvedere, and Gianni Belvedere’s fiancée Ilona Flint, a judge ruled Wednesday after a two-day pre-trial hearing which included both hard evidence against the suspect and some shocking revelations about the victims.
One element that still remains missing from the case, at least publicly, is a motive. Prosecutors did not even try to explain why Mercado, who had no apparent connection to the victims, would kill all three execution-style.
But police still have 30 search warrants whose contents have yet to be released to the public. Those documents could contain evidence that would indicate a motive, or what police believe Mercado’s motive might have been.
But in the eyes of the judge, there was enough evidence to bring Mercado to a trial, possibly later this year — a trial at which the 29-year-old could face the death penalty if convicted of all three murders.
On Tuesday in the San Diego court, the court heard testimony portraying the Belvedere brothers and Flint as regular users of hard drugs, including heroin. Gianni Belvedere has purchased heroin earlier on the night of the murders while Flint’s bloodstream contained evidence of recent heroin use. Salvatore Belvedere had only recently returned from a heroin rehab stint.
On Wednesday, testimony from investigators and forensic experts focused largely on the suspect, Mercado.
A digital forensics expert retrieved data from Mercado’s cell phone, finding an entry for the date that the murders took place reading simply “R.I.P.”
Salvatore Belvedere and Flint were shot to death as they sat in a car in the Westfield Mission Valley Mall parking lot in San Diego, in the early morning hours of December 24, 2013. Gianni Belvedere’s decomposing body was found on January 17 in the trunk of a car parked in Riverside, California, about 90 miles north.
The next day, Mercado was stopped at a Border Patrol checkpoint in San Clemente. He admitted having an assault rifle in the car at the time, according to testimony at the hearing, but failed to tell the Border Patrol agents that he also had two loaded handguns and homemade silencer.
Mercado appeared dazed and “emotionally drained” during the stop and gave the agents no explanation of where he was driving to, according to testimony from a Homeland Security agent.
A bottle of Febreze air freshener, which investigators say was used to mask the smell of Gianni Belvedere’s decomposing body, was found in the trunk of the car in Riverside. Mercado’s DNA was on the bottle.
But Mercado’s defense lawyers argued that police had no evidence that Mercado was at the Misison Valley Mall shooting site.
Gianni Belvedere showed up there to pick up Flint at 11:30 pm December 23, according to a detective’s testimony. But Belvedere was cut off in the middle of a phone call to his family and never heard from again, until his body was discovered about three weeks later, the third victim in the San Diego triple murder.