Two members of a violent gang that targeted Mexican drug dealers are responsible for four kidnappings, the subsequent murders of three of those victims and an attempted kidnapping, a prosecutor told jurors Wednesday.
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In his opening statement in the trial of Jose Olivera Beritan and David Valencia, Deputy District Attorney Mark Amador said the remains of two of the murder victims were dissolved in acid after their May 2007 deaths. What was left of their remains was not discovered until more than two years later at a ranch in southern San Diego owned by Valencia, he said.
Defense attorneys were scheduled give their opening statements Thursday, followed by the first prosecution witnesses.
Amador said Olivera Beritan, 38, and Valencia, 41, are part of Los Palillos, or the "Toothpicks," a splinter group from the Arellano Felix cartel that for years shipped drugs through Tijuana to San Diego.
The trial is the first of three scheduled for members of Los Palillos, 17 of whom were indicted on various charges involving "numerous murders and kidnappings," Amador said. He called the group "a paramilitary-style organization; a group of callous, reckless outlaws."
He showed several of the weapons confiscated, "Rifles, handguns, Tasers, weapons of death."
The alleged leader of "Los Palillos," Jorge Rojas Lopez, was angry and wanted to get back at the AFO because it killed his brother, the prosecutor said.
Amador laid out details on four crimes:
-- Olivera Beritan is accused in a Jan. 3, 2007, attempted kidnapping at a Bonita apartment complex in which a now-imprisoned drug trafficker was shot but managed to escape.
-- Olivera Beritan is also charged with the March 23, 2007, kidnapping of Ivan Lozano, whose body was found in the trunk of a car in Clairemont about two weeks later.
-- Both defendants are accused of the May 3, 2007, abduction of a drug trafficker named Cesar Uribe and Uribe's associate, Marc Leon, whose remains were found on property where Valencia kept horses near the border.
-- The June 8 kidnapping of businessman Eduardo Gonzalez-Tostado, who was rescued from a house in Chula Vista, leading to the arrests of the defendants.
During his confinement, Rojas Lopez told Tostado that it was one thing to kidnap and murder in Mexico, but "we have the balls to do it here (in the United States)," Amador told the jury.
Amador said the defendants chose their victims because their families were unlikely to report the crimes to police.
Lozano, Uribe and Leon were all held at a house on Garber Way in Paradise Hills, he said.
The prosecutor said Uribe's family heard from his kidnappers, who demanded money, and two ransom drops took place. He said Valencia and Uribe were involved in drug trafficking together but a dispute arose over a debt.
The families of Lozano and Leon never heard from them or their kidnappers.
The defendants are charged with murder, kidnapping, attempted kidnapping and robbery counts. Because there are special circumstance allegations of torture and multiple murders, Olivera Beritan and Valencia face life in prison without parole if convicted in a trial expected to last around two months.
Two men pleaded guilty in the case and will testify for the prosecution, Amador said.
Four other alleged member of Los Palillos face the death penalty if convicted.
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