The California man accused of killing three people on Christmas Eve in 2013, two in the parking lot of a San Diego mall, is competent to face murder charges, a judge ruled Tuesday.
The attorney for Carlo Mercado, 30, had requested another trial delay because he said his client cannot aid in his own defense. Mercado is suspected of killing Salvatore Belvedere, 22; his brother Gianni Belvedere, 24; and Gianni’s fiancée Ilona Flint, 22.
Salvatore and Flint were fatally shot Dec. 24, 2013 in the parking lot of the Mission Valley Westfield Mall. Two weeks later, Gianni's body was found in the trunk of a car in Riverside, more than 100 miles away from San Diego.
For six months, the shootings remained a mystery to San Diegans. Then, on June 20, 2014, SDPD officers arrested Mercado, who has since pleaded not guilty to three counts of first-degree murder.
Mercado’s attorney, however, said the defendant’s medications were changed when he went back to jail and, as a result, Mercado’s condition worsened. Two psychiatrists have diagnosed him with schizophrenia, psychotic and catatonic depression.
During his testimony Monday, Peter Fischetti, the San Diego Jail’s chief mental clinician, said he believes Mercado is attempting to fake his illness. He said most of the time, the defendant would appear to have difficulty speaking, but at other times, he would make requests easily.
Fischetti described a specific example.
"He came up to the window and said, 'Can you hand me that?' and it was very surprising to me because that was more words than he would usually speak," Fischetti testified. "And he said it so fluently and matter-of-factly, as though this is the way he always has conversations."
A psychologist who has evaluated Mercado, Dr. Erin Ferma, told the court he is not functioning enough to speak to his attorney about things and ask questions on his own behalf.
"He’s still extremely flat, extremely disengaged," said Ferma. "He looks off to the side. One possibility is there is internal stimuli that he is responding to and not telling anybody, the way he looks to the side."
She said if they return Mercado to his previous medication regimen, it’s possible he would be restored and could stand trial.
On Tuesday, a psychologist who treated him at Patton testified she suspected Mercado was exaggerating his symptoms in order to avoid prosecution.
Prosecutors played Mercado's phone calls with family for the court.
“It was a distinct contrast to what he was portraying in court where he sits there and he looks down,” said Deputy DA Brian Erickson.
Erickson said Mercado was involved in activities like swimming and peer government while at Patton.
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.