SAN DIEGO - A San Diego man who fatally shot two brothers and a woman in the parking lot of the Mission Valley mall on Christmas Eve 2013 pleaded guilty today to three counts of first-degree murder and was immediately sentenced to consecutive terms of life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Carlo Mercado, 31, had faced the death penalty in the killings of 24-year-old Gianni Belvedere, 22-year-old Salvatore Belvedere, and Gianni's fiancee, Ilona Flint, also 22.
Deputy District Attorney Brian Erickson said Mercado -- who arrived at the mall on his motorcycle -- wanted to steal Gianni Belvedere's car and argued with the victim at about 11:30 p.m. on Dec. 23, 2013, before shooting him as he talked on the phone with his cousin outside Macy's.
About 90 minutes later, Salvatore Belvedere and Flint -- who were in the parking lot looking for Gianni -- saw Mercado in Gianni's car and were shot as Flint tried to call for help.
After shooting Gianni, Mercado drove to Mira Mesa to fill the stolen car with gas before returning to the mall to retrieve his motorcycle, the prosecutor said.
"They didn't do anything," Erickson said of the victims. "This is Mr. Mercado doing this on his own. They were literally in the wrong place at the wrong time."
After police had cleared the crime scene, Mercado rented a U-Haul truck with a trailer and drove back to the mall, where he loaded his motorcycle onto the trailer.
The motorcycle ended up falling off the back of the truck, and Mercado filed a claim online saying he had been in an accident, Erickson said.
Gianni Belvedere's decomposing body was found in the trunk of a car in Riverside on Jan. 17, 2014.
Mercado was arrested Jan. 18, 2014, at a San Clemente checkpoint when an agent noticed a weapons case in the back seat of his vehicle.
An assault rifle, two handguns and a homemade silencer were found in the car.