Family members & drug dealers investigated in Christmas Eve murd - San Diego, California News Station - KFMB Channel 8 - cbs8.com

Family members & drug dealers investigated in Christmas Eve murders

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SAN DIEGO, Calif. (CBS 8) -- Before Carlo Mercado emerged as the prime suspect in a Christmas Eve triple-murder case, San Diego police detectives took a hard look at several drug dealers, family members of the victims, and close to 64,000 cell phone users in Mission Valley.

A judge unsealed 37 search warrants on Thursday detailing a wide-ranging investigation into the murders of Salvatore Belvedere, 22, his brother Gianni Belvedere, 24, and Gianni's fiancee Ilona Flint, 22.

Mercado, 29, was ordered to stand trial Wednesday on three counts of murder after a two-day preliminary hearing. The San Diego County District Attorney will decide in the coming weeks if he will face the death penalty.

Testimony showed in May 2013 Mercado purchased the murder weapon used in all three murders. Mercado was found carrying the weapon in his vehicle on January 18 as he drove through the San Clemente Border Patrol checkpoint on Interstate 5.

Mercado was arrested for possession of an illegal silencer. DNA lab tests eventually tied Mercado to a vehicle in Riverside where the body of Gianni Belvedere was found Jan. 17.

On June 20, Police arrested Mercado at his home in Mira Mesa on murder charges.

One search warrant detailed records seized from Mercado's place of employment, a Target store in Mira Mesa where he worked for the past eight years stocking merchandise.

The warrant ordered the company to turn over Mercado's employee work schedule, employment applications, performance reviews and store purchases.  Investigators also obtained the names of all employees at the Mira Mesa Target store, according to the court records.

San Diego police detectives investigated the case for six months with no arrests. The newly-released search warrants establish a timeline associated with the murders, as well as a number of leads in the case.

In a search warrant dated June 3, a SDPD homicide detective wrote, “The investigation revealed that when FLINT was fourteen to sixteen years of age, she posted a blog on the Internet stating her step-father was a serial killer.”

Detectives spoke to Flint's mother, who “confirmed Ilona posted the blog, but indicated it was not true, stating the blog had no merit… Ilona was apparently upset because she was opposed to (her mother's) marriage,” according to the warrant.

A warrant dated Jan. 17 shows that Leonardo Belvedere – the father of victims Gianni and Salvatore Belvedere -- was investigated after his DNA was found on a bullet casing inside the vehicle at Mission Valley mall where Ilona Flint and Salvatore Belvedere where found shot to death Dec. 24.

“The DNA profile matching Leonardo BELVEDERE was found on one of the expended shell casings that was found atop some aprons on the left rear seat of the above described vehicle,” the warrant stated.

Prosecutors now believe Leonard Belvedere's DNA may have been transferred to the bullet casing as it flew out of the killer's gun, because the father owned the black Toyota Camry in question.

Also at the Mission Valley murder scene, crime scene technicians recovered a plastic baggie on the parking lot pavement. The baggie contained cocaine residue and DNA of a “registered narcotic offender,” according to a warrant dated April 7.

“”During the examination of the parking lot where BELVEDERE and FLINT were found… the asphalt was relatively free of litter and debris. Detective PASHA recovered several items in close proximity to the car. The items included a knit hat, a pack of cigarettes and two small Zip-loc baggies with Pit Bull dog graphics printed on them. The baggies contained a small amount of what appeared to be controlled substance,” the warrant said.

“SDPD lab personnel were successful in developing a DNA profile from the plastic baggies,” the warrant continued. The DNA hit came back to a City Heights man, who “had previous convictions for possession for sale of controlled substance.”

Detectives conducted “an undercover narcotics purchase” from the man, served a search warrant on his home in the 4600 block of Wilson Ave., then seized a three page list of evidence, including computers, cell phones, money, suspected controlled substances, and Zip-loc baggies similar to the ones found at the murder scene.

The subject of that search warrant has not been charged in connection with the Christmas Eve murders, however.

Prosecutors also believe Mercado matches the description of a man seen in mall surveillance video following Ilona Flint on the night of the murders. In the video, the man is seen talking on a cell phone at 11:22 p.m.

SDPD investigators requested a so-called “tower dump” of all the phone pings from a nearby Mission Valley cell tower between 10 p.m. on Dec. 23 to 2 a.m. on Dec. 24.

“There were a total of 63,934 voice calls captured by the tower dump,” according to the warrant.

By narrowing down the time perimeters, detectives eventually reviewed 711 phone calls in an attempt to identify the man seen talking on the cell phone in the surveillance video. They apparently were unable to link any of the calls to Mercado.

Prosecutors have not established a motive for the killings or a connection between any of the three victims and defendant Carlo Mercado.

According to one April 29 search warrant, “As of this date no definite time of death has been established for Gianni BELVEDERE'S death… In order to carry out the murders of Ilona and Salvatore, abduct and/or kill Gianni, put the body in the trunk of the vehicle and dispose of it over one hundred miles away, it seems reasonable to assume more than one person would be needed to carry out the murders.”

Mercado's next court hearing is set for Sept. 17.

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TIMELINE OF KILLINGS
(based on unsealed search warrants and court testimony)

Dec 23:

1900 Gianni purchases two grams of heroin from a drug dealer

2300 Gianni purchases seven Xanax pills from a drug dealer

2318 Surveillance video shows man entering mall, loitering near Ilona's work

2322 Surveillance video shows man on cell phone while loitering

2328 – 2343 Gianni cell phone pinging near Mission Valley mall

2333 – 2343 Gianni cell phone call with relative

2343 Gianni cell phone call ends with disconnect

Dec. 24:

0012 Ilona and co-worker depart work location

0022 Surveillance video shows Ilona exiting mall with man following her

0114 Ilona calls 911 and says, “I've been shot.”

0124 Police arrive on scene

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