DA: Christmas Eve Triple Killing Was Random Shooting

Prosecutor in the case of Carlo Mercado said there appears to be no connection between the defendant and the three victims in the Christmas Eve 2013 crime

A Christmas Eve killing in the parking lot of a San Diego-area shopping mall two years ago may have been a random attack or a "road rage" incident, a deputy district attorney told NBC 7 Tuesday.

The man accused of killing two high school sweethearts and their best friend and brother was found competent to stand trial by a judge Tuesday.

Carlos Mercado had been committed to Patton State Hospital, a psychiatric facility, until he was cleared for prosecution two months ago.

Deputy District Attorney Bryan Erickson said Mercado's demeanor at the hospital was very different than that in court, leading the way for Judge Frederic Link to rule the defendent would face first-degree murder charges in a trial that could begin as early as next year.

What is still undetermined in the bizarre murder case that baffled San Diego Police for months is what led to the violent deaths of three young people.

“It looks like a random, almost a road rage incident,” Erickson said. “There’s no phone call connection between them. It appears to be a random event.”

Salvatore Belvedere, 22, and Ilona Flint, 22 were shot in the parking lot of Westfield Mission Valley in the early morning hours of Dec. 23, 2013. Flint died at the scene. Salvatore died at the hospital a few days later.

Weeks later, on Jan. 17, 2014, Gianni Belvedere, 24, was discovered in the trunk of his car in Riverside. He had been shot once in the head.

Search warrants obtained by NBC 7 state the last phone call Gianni made was to his cousin at approximately 11:35 p.m. on Dec. 23, 2013.

“During that call [the cousin] said Gianni appeared to be distracted by someone or something and the call was unexpectedly terminated,” a document states.

Phone records showed Gianni’s cell phone was turned off right after that call, investigators said.

Search warrant documents state Flint was captured on video leaving the mall on Dec. 24, 2013, at 12:22 a.m. being followed by an unidentified man.

The documents say a similar man was described by witnesses who found the bodies of Flint and Salvatore in the parking lot about an hour later. Witnesses told detectives they saw an unidentified man walking away from the vehicle where the bodies of the victims were found.

It wasn't until June 2014 that police arrested Carlo Mercado, then-29, in connection with all three deaths.

Prosecutors claim DNA evidence links Mercado to Gianni’s car and the bloody Riverside crime scene, while ballistics evidence links a gun registered in Mercado’s name to the deadly shootings of Flint, Salvatore and Gianni.

Mercado allegedly entered the term “R.I.P.” into his calendar on his cellphone on the date of the slayings, a computer media investigator also testified at a pretrial hearing. 

Antoinette Belvedere, the sister of Sal and Gianni, said Tuesday that this been a long process for the family but she's happy to see the criminal case move forward. 

"We don't want this to go on forever and we all know he can speak clearly and is clear-minded," she said of the defendant.

She also wanted to remind the public to be cautious as they shop during the holiday season. The Belvedere family has filed a wrongful death suit claiming  Westfield, LLC claiming it failed to provide sufficient lighting and monitoring security cameras in the area to keep patrons safe.

“If cameras were working, we would’ve been able to catch it on camera and somebody would’ve been able to be saved,” she said.

The San Diego County District Attorney’s Office has not decided whether to seek the death penalty in this case.

Trial could begin in February or March.

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