SAN DIEGO - Prosecutors played part of a 911 call during a preliminary hearing Tuesday for a man accused in the shooting deaths of two brothers and a woman who was engaged to one of them -- a crime that came to light when two of the victims were found mortally wounded in a parked car at a Mission Valley mall last Christmas Eve.
Carlo Gallopa Mercado, 29, could face the death penalty if convicted of three counts of murder and a special circumstance allegation of multiple murders. A decision on what penalty Mercado could face will be made later.
Mercado's arrest in late June came nearly six months after Ilona Flint and Salvatore Belvedere, both 22, were found fatally shot shortly before 1:30 a.m. Dec. 24, 2013, at Westfield Mission Valley, which was open late for last-minute holiday shopping. Salvatore died at a hospital two days after the shooting.
In Tuesday’s hearing, prosecutors played Flint’s 911 call. On it, she’s heard saying, “We’ve been shot twice.”
Gianni Belvedere, 24, was missing for several weeks following the shootings of his fiancee and brother. In mid-January, his body was found in the trunk of a car outside a fast-foot restaurant in Riverside. He also had been shot in the head.
Prosecutors told a San Diego Superior Court judge that Ilona worked at the mall. Gianni was supposed to pick her up, but never showed. After trying to get in touch with him, Salvatore eventually came instead.
Meanwhile, Mercado’s defense attorney told the judge that there were two witnesses who told police they saw someone walk away from the car the night of the shooting. A few days later, the witnesses claimed they were watching television and saw Gianni’s picture. They contacted police to say they recognized the man who walked away from the car as Gianni.
Investigators have said they found "substantial probable cause" linking Mercado to the slayings. A motive was not known.
Border Patrol Agent Anthony Fazio testified Tuesday that Mercado was stopped about 4:45 a.m. on Jan. 18 at the San Clemente checkpoint when an agent noticed a weapons case in the back seat of his Ford Explorer.
Fazio said Mercado admitted having an assault rifle in the car, but didn't mention two loaded handguns -- a .22-caliber and a .45-caliber -- magazines and boxes of ammunition found in a backpack on the front seat.
A homemade silencer was also found in the vehicle, Fazio testified.
A police firearms expert who also testified Tuesday said the bullets that killed all three victims were fired from the same .22-caliber handgun. The witness was not asked whether the slugs matched the gun found in Mercado's car.
James Yates of the Department of Homeland Security testified that Mercado was "drained of emotion" and couldn't explain where he was going when agents at the checkpoint interviewed him.
Yates said he and another agent contacted Mercado's family to make sure they were safe and to find out about the defendant's "odd" behavior.
The weapons were seized, Mercado was released, and the case was referred to the state Department of Justice.
Mercado was arrested in connection with the shootings of Flint and the Belvedere brothers in late June. He was awaiting sentencing after pleading guilty to possession of a silencer.
Judge Eugenia Eyherabide will decide at the end of the preliminary hearing, which resumes Wednesday, whether the evidence is sufficient to hold Mercado for trial.