Carlo Mercado ordered to stand trial in deaths of Ilona Flint, Salvatore and Gianni Belvedere

SAN DIEGO - A man accused of fatally shooting three people -- including two killed in a car outside the Westfield Mission Valley mall last Christmas Eve -- was ordered Wednesday to stand trial on triple murder charges that could lead to the death penalty.

Carlo Gallopa Mercado, 29, is accused in the deaths of Ilona Flint and Salvatore Belvedere, who were shot at 1:11 a.m. Dec. 24 in the mall parking lot, and Belvedere's older brother, who was Flint's fiance. Gianni Belvedere's decomposed body was found in the trunk of his car in Riverside on Jan. 17.

All three were shot in the head with a .22-caliber handgun belonging to Mercado, according to evidence produced at a two-day preliminary hearing. A motive was not disclosed.

Deputy District Attorney Brian Erickson told Judge Eugenia Eyherabide that Gianni Belvedere, 24, was last heard from about 11:30 p.m. on Dec. 23 when his phone conversation with a man abruptly ended.

Salvatore Belvedere and Flint, both 22, were shot at point-blank range about 90 minutes later, the prosecutor said, adding that a silencer was probably used in the killings because no gunshots were heard on a 911 call from Flint as she was shot.

Erickson alleged that on the day of the shootings, Mercado used his cellphone to search for information on the Mission Valley Mall shootings.

The defendant's DNA was found on a can of air freshener and tape used to hold down the trigger to quash the smell of Gianni Belvedere's decomposing body in the trunk of his car, Erickson alleged.

Mercado's DNA was also found on duct tape near the license plate of the victim's car and on the gas cap, according to court testimony.

On Jan. 18, a "despondent" Mercado was stopped about 4:45 a.m. at the San Clemente checkpoint when an agent noticed a weapons case in the back seat of his Ford Explorer, Erickson 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.

The weapons were seized, Mercado was released, and the case was referred to the state Department of Justice.

Mercado was arrested for the shootings of Flint and the Belvedere brothers in late June. At the time, he was awaiting sentencing after pleading guilty to possession of a silencer.

"Guns play a very big role in his (Mercado's) life," the prosecutor told the judge.

Mercado used the password "assassin" to sync his cellphone to his computer and had saved on his "favorites" a list of the top 50 assassin movies, Erickson said.

Defense attorney Gary Gibson told the judge that Mercado had the gun used to shoot the victims, but beyond that, there were still many unanswered questions as to who killed the three.

Gibson acknowledged that his client was involved in some way in Gianni Belvedere's murder, but told the judge it was "frightening" to think that Mercado faced a possible death sentence with the evidence presented regarding the other two killings.

Eyherabide found that enough evidence was presented for Mercado to stand trial and scheduled arraignment in Superior Court for Sept. 17.

District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis has yet to decide whether the defendant will face the death penalty or life in prison without parole if convicted.

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