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Death penalty sought in Christmas Eve murders

Posted: 10:31 AM, Feb 18, 2016
Updated: 2016-02-19 03:08:12Z
SAN DIEGO -- Prosecutors will seek the death penalty against a man charged in the shooting deaths of three people, two of whom were killed outside the Mission Valley Mall on Christmas Eve more than two years ago, it was announced Thursday.
  
Carlo Mercado, 30, is charged with murder in the Dec. 24, 2013, deaths of Ilona Flint and Salvatore Belvedere, and the killing of Belvedere's older brother, Gianni, whose decomposing body was found in the trunk of his car in Riverside on Jan. 17, 2014.
  
Deputy District Attorney Brian Erickson said there appeared to be no connection between Mercado and the victims and the defendant allegedly shot the victims in a case of "chance road rage," killing one and then coming back to murder the other two.
  
"It appears to be a random act," Erickson said outside court. The prosecutor said there was no evidence that Mercado carried out a "hit" on the victims.'
  
Defense attorney Gary Gibson said Mercado was mentally ill and had led a "blameless life" prior to the killings.
   
Mercado was found mentally competent to stand trial following a sanity hearing in December.
   
Erickson told a judge at a preliminary hearing that Gianni Belvedere, 24, was last heard from about 11:30 p.m. on Dec. 23, 2013, when his phone conversation with a male relative abruptly ended.
  
Salvatore Belvedere and Flint, both 22, were shot about 90 minutes later. Erickson said a silencer was probably used in the killings because no gunshots were heard on a 911 call from Flint as she was shot.
  
The prosecutor said Mercado's DNA was found on a can of air freshener used to mask the smell of Gianni Belvedere's decomposing body in the trunk of his car.
  
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.
  
A status conference is scheduled for March 17. No trial date has been set.