EL CAJON, Calif. - Two brothers accused of fatally beating a homeless man in a Santee riverbed pleaded not guilty Monday to charges of murder and torture.
Austin Larry Mostrong, 20, and 19-year-old Preston Autry Mostrong, who live in Santee, were each ordered held on $3 million bail in the death of 50-year-old George Lowery.
Deputy District Attorney George Modlin told Judge Daniel Goldstein that both defendants made statements that placed them at the crime scene on April 24. Preston Mostrong admitted striking Lowery and throwing him into the weeds, tied up, the prosecutor alleged.
"This was a brutal, heinous, just cold-hearted case," Modlin said outside court.
Lowery's wife, who lived with him in a nearby makeshift encampment, found him unconscious in the river bottom in the area of Chubb Lane and North Magnolia Avenue, suffering from severe trauma to his upper body. The victim also had been robbed, sheriff's Lt. Kenneth Nelson said.
Lowery was rushed to Sharp Memorial Hospital and pronounced dead four days later, Nelson said.
Brandi Harris, a friend of Lowery's wife and daughter, told reporters she was angry at the defendants.
"To have a bail amount, to have a not guilty plea, is just outrageous," Harris said outside court. "They (the defendants) were there at the scene. They were there."
Harris said Lowery was a loving father of four and a new grandfather. She wasn't sure of the circumstances that led to his homelessness.
Although prosecutors did not disclose any possible motive for the crime, sheriff's investigators said they believe the fatal assault stemmed from a fight the older brother had gotten into with some homeless people in the same general area on April 20. It was unclear if Lowery had been present during that altercation, which left Austin Mostrong under arrest.
Modlin said both defendants were on probation at the time of the alleged assault -- Preston Mostrong for a theft-related case and Austin Mostrong for a misdemeanor assault charge and delaying an officer.
The defendants will be back in court May 11 for a readiness conference and May 16 for a preliminary hearing.
They each could face 25 years to life in prison plus an additional life term if convicted of murder and torture.