The mysterious killings of local residents Ilona Flint, Salvatore Belvedere and Gianni Belvedere have rocked and saddened San Diego. Now, six months into this case, many questions remain unanswered as the San Diego Police Department continues to put together pieces of the puzzle.
Here’s a timeline of key events in this triple homicide case, which first began on the early hours of Christmas Eve with a deadly shooting outside Westfield Mission Valley Mall.
Dec. 24, 2013: The Christmas Eve Shooting
At around 1:15 a.m., Ilona Flint and Salvatore Belvedere, both 22 years old, are critically shot in a parking lot outside the Macy’s department store at San Diego’s Mission Valley Mall. Despite being shot in the head, Flint manages to call 911 to report the shooting, telling dispatchers she’s injured near the mall. Minutes later, officers locate the wounded duo inside a vehicle in the 1600-block of Camino Del Rio North. Flint is pronounced dead at the scene. Salvatore, suffering life-threatening gunshot wounds to the head and torso, is transported to a local hospital. SDPD Lt. Mike Hastings holds a briefing on the Christmas Eve shooting and says police are looking for a possible suspect, described as a 5-foot-9 to 5-foot-11 man wearing tan pants.
Dec. 26, 2013: Gianni Belvedere is Missing
Two days after the parking lot shooting, the families of both Flint and Salvatore hold a brief news conference announcing that 24-year-old Gianni Belvedere – Sal’s older brother and Flint’s fiancé – has gone missing. Police confirm Gianni was last seen on Dec. 23 around 10 p.m. at his Tierrasanta home. “Gianni, we need you to come home,” pleads one family member, between tears. "Please call us." Investigators confirm the Christmas Eve shooting does not appear to be connected to any sort of robbery. Lt. Hastings says a possible vehicle of interest in the case is a 2008-2011 dark gray Honda sedan.
Dec. 27, 2013: Salvatore Succumbs to Injuries, Search Continues for Gianni
The Belvedere family confirms that Sal has died from injuries sustained in the Christmas Eve shooting. Police say they’re still searching for Gianni, and issue a missing person bulletin describing Gianni as an Italian-American man with brown hair and brown eyes. He’s 6 feet tall, 165 pounds and likely driving a four-door, dark green 2004 Toyota Camry XLE with the Utah license plate B154VZ. The Belvedere family says Gianni may have also been at the mall with Flint and Sal at the time of the shooting.
Dec. 28, 2013: Vigil Held for Flint
Loved ones hold a public candlelight vigil for Flint at La Jolla Shores. Friends describe Flint as a loyal friend and hard worker. Friend Andre Briones tells NBC 7 that Flint and Gianni had been dating for about eight years and were engaged to be married. Both Flint and the Belvedere brothers were originally from Utah. Flint moved to San Diego after Gianni and his family relocated here from Utah. Briones also says the Belvedere brothers would often take turns picking Flint up from work and says the trio were the best of friends.
Jan. 1, 2014: Vigil Held for Sal
Approximately 100 loved ones gather at Crystal Pier in Pacific Beach at sunset on New Year’s Day to pay tribute to Sal in an emotional vigil. The family says Crystal Pier was one of Sal's favorite surfing spots. The Belvederes also say Gianni is still missing and announce that a reward for information leading to his safe return has climbed to $10,000. "If you've seen the car, seen him, think you've seen him, please report it to Crime Stoppers, San Diego PD, to the news media, anybody," Gianni's uncle Paul Donato pleads. "We need any clues we can get our hands on to bring him home to put a little closure to this whole nightmare that we're living right now."
Jan. 7, 2014: No Gianni, No Answers
Two weeks to the date of the shooting outside Mission Valley Mall, investigators say there is still no trace of Gianni. Lt. Hastings tells NBC 7 that this is one of the most unusual cases he’s seen in his 20-year career. Officials also confirm that Gianni’s cell phone and credit cards have not been used since he vanished.
Jan. 17, 2014: Body Found in Trunk of Missing Man’s Car in Riverside, Calif.
The dark green Toyota Camry with the Utah license plate described in the SDPD’s missing person bulletin for Gianni is found in Riverside, Calif., about an hour-and-a-half north of San Diego County. A passerby calls authorities at around 11:45 a.m. and reports that a foul odor is coming from the trunk area of vehicle, which is parked at a shopping center. When officers arrive on scene, they open the trunk and find the decomposed body of a man inside. On Jan. 18, a Belvedere family member confirms the victim in the trunk is Gianni. The SDPD says it’s working with the Riverside Police Department on this development. An autopsy is scheduled for the following week.
Jan. 23, 2014: Confirmed by PD: Victim in Trunk is Gianni
Police officially confirm that the man found dead in the trunk of the car in Riverside is, in fact, missing San Diego resident Gianni Belvedere. The cause of death is not released but detectives clarify that Gianni was a victim of homicide.
Jan. 24, 2014: New Suspect Details Released, Police Determined to Solve Case
At a press conference, SDPD Lt. Mike Hastings releases more details of a possible suspect tied to the triple homicide case. He says the suspect – seen at Westfield Mission Valley on Dec. 23 and Dec. 24, 2013 – is a man wearing a black hoodie with white bands in the biceps area of the sweatshirt, tan pants and white tennis shoes. He is described as standing 5-foot-10 to 6-feet-tall. It's believed the suspect was at the Mission Valley mall at 11:15 p.m. the night before the shooting of Flint and Sal and then returned to the mall at 12:15 a.m. on Dec. 24. Lt. Hastings assures the Belvedere family and the public that the SDPD is working diligently to find answers and says investigators have spent hundreds of hours on the case. “If this case can be solved, this case will be solved,” Lt. Hastings says.
Feb. 7, 2014: SDPD Confirms Gianni Suffered Shot(s) to Head
In the first bit of new information released in two weeks, the SDPD confirms that Gianni died as a result of gunshot wound(s) to the head, according to preliminary findings from an autopsy. The autopsy has not yet been completed by the Riverside Medical Examiner, so police say this is the only insight into Gianni's manner of death at this time.
March 2014: Family Launches New Website in Search for Leads
After three months with no leads, the Belvedere family sets up a new website filled with new information on the case and the victims.
April 2014: Victims' Family Desperate for Answers
Desperate to find answers to the murders, the Belvedere family hosts fundraisers to raise money to add to the reward fund.
June 21, 2014: Police, Family Confirm Arrest in Triple-Homicide Case
Nearly six months to the date of the Mission Valley Christmas Eve murders, the Belvedere family and SDPD confirm that an arrest has been made in the slayings of Ilona, Sal and Gianni. Carlo Gallapo Mercado, 29, was booked on three counts of first-degree murder in connection with the killings. The SDPD schedules a news briefing for Monday, June 23, to share more information.
June 22, 2014: Homicide Suspect's Attorney Denies Accusations
Mercado's attorney, Michael Berg, says his client "adamantly denies any involvement" in the triple homicide case, and assures that he will prove Mercado's innocence. Berg tells NBC 7 that Mercado was hospitalized for unspecified injuries sustained sometime after he was booked into jail on June 21.
June 23, 2014: SDPD Shares Details of Mercado's Arrest
SDPD Chief Shelley Zimmerman and homicide Lt. Mike Hastings hold a news briefing to share a few details of the case and the arrest of Mercado. The chief says she hopes this arrest will begin to bring some closure to the Flint and Belvedere families.
June 25, 2014: Mercado Arraigned; Pleads Not Guilty
Mercado is arraigned in court and formally charged with three counts of first-degree murder. A deputy district attorney says that because this is considered a capital case, Mercado could face the death penalty or life in prison for the slayings of Flint and the Belvedere brothers. Mercado is scheduled to appear in court again on July 11.
Sept. 2, 2014: Mercado's Preliminary Hearing
Mercado appears in court for his preliminary hearing, where new details of the triple homicide are released for the first time, including DNA evidence.
Sept. 3, 2014: Mercado is Bound Over for Trial
A judge rules enough evidence has been presented in the pretrial to send Mercado to trial on all three counts of first-degree murder.
Sept. 4, 2014: Search Warrants Reveal Details
Search warrants obtained by NBC 7 reveal the exhaustive investigation into the triple homicide case, but still, no motive.
Sept. 17, 2014: Mental Competency Exam Ordered
During an arraignment, Mercado's attorney raised questions about his client's mental competency to stand trial. The judge ordered Mercado be held without bail until he can be evaluated on Oct. 10. Until then, criminal proceedings would be suspended.
Nov. 3, 2014: Mercado Committed to State Hospital
Judge Joseph P. Brannigan found Mercado not competent to stand trial and ordered he be treated at Patton State Hospital for three years or until he is found competent to assist in his own defense.
Sept. 9, 2015: Mercado Returned to Jail, Mental Competency Questioned
The San Diego County District Attorney’s office confirmed Mercado was returned to San Diego Central Jail after evaluators from Patton State Hospital – a psychiatric facility in Southern California where Mercado had been receiving treatment – found him competent to stand trial. The defense requested a competency hearing for Mercado.
Nov. 3, 2015: Judge Sets Date for Mercado's Competency Hearing
A judge decided Mercado will undergo a mental competency trial on Dec. 14, 2015. At the bench trial, the defense has the burden of proving the suspect is mentally incompetent to stand trial.
Dec. 14, 2015: Judge Finds Mercado Competent to Stand Trial
A judge rules Mercado is competent to stand trial and face murder charges in the triple homicide case. Meanwhile, Deputy District Attorney Brian Erickson says the killings appear to be random, perhaps stemming from a "road rage incident." The Deputy DA says Mercado did not know his victims.
Feb. 18, 2016: DA to Seek Death Penalty Against Mercado
Deputy DA Brian Erickson says the DA's office will seek the dealth penalty against Mercado when he stands trial. Mercado pleads not guilty to the three murders. Erickson says he hopes to send Mercado to trial within this year. Mercado's attorney, Gary Gibson, says prosecutors will have a lot to prove in this complicated case, including the motive, which remains a mystery.
July 19, 2016: Mercado to Stand Trial
A San Diego judge rules Carlo Mercado will stand trial for the killings of the Belvedere brothers and Flint. At this point, his trial is set for April 3, 2017. If convicted, Mercado could face the death penalty.
July 26, 2016: Mercado Hospitalized After Drug Overdose in Jail
The San Diego County Sheriff’s Department (SDSO) tells NBC 7 Investigates that Mercado – along with his cellmate, Abel Martinez, 52, experienced “medical distress” while in their cell at San Diego Central Jail. Both men were transported from jail to UC San Diego for treatment, SDSO’s Jan Caldwell said. As of July 27, no further details on Mercado’s condition were released.