Two brothers will face charges of torture in the brutal beating of a homeless man in Santee, California, despite their attorneys’ arguments that the killing occurred in self-defense.
“There’s murder and then there is what happened here,” Deputy District Attorney George Modlin said Friday.
George Lowery, 50, was beaten with "fists and feet" in an assault that homicide investigators described as "a very horrific event."
Lowery was found unconscious on April 24, 2016 in a riverbed where homeless people are known to camp. He was face down under a piece of plywood near Chubb Lane and N. Magnolia Avenue in Santee. He died five days later.
Modlin argued brothers Austin Mostrong and Preston Mostrong beat the victim so severely that his brain expanded inside his skull and killed him. Lowery was also hogtied, covered with rubbing alcohol and pushed face-down into "muck," Modlin said.
Four days before the beating, Austin Mostrong's paintball or pellet gun was taken in a confrontation near the homeless encampment. The night before the beating, Austin said he was going to go and get his guns back, Modlin said.
Friday's hearing was to consider a defense motion to dismiss the torture charges.
Defense attorneys argued Lowery died in a tragic assault that occurred in self-defense. The defendants beat and hogtied the victim out of concern he may retaliate, they said.
Preston Mostrong’s attorney, James McMahon, said his client was in Arizona when the paintball guns were seized and had only arrived back home the morning of the incident. He said the brothers went to the area of the homeless encampment to go off-roading, not to exact revenge.
“Preston was approached by a man with a machete and there’s forensic evidence that backs that up,” McMahon said. “There was a machete there. There was confirmation that that was the decedent’s machete.”
However, prosecutors allege the Mostrong brothers went to the area to find the victim and punish him. Modlin said there was construction equipment in the back of the brothers’ truck.
“The intent was to go there for revenge to get the stuff back and to teach this man a lesson,” Modlin argued.
“The evidence is lacking in the record to say there is a sadistic purpose or my client had this purpose of revenge that was so strong that propelled these actions,” Attorney John O’Connell said.
“He felt he was defending himself,” O'Connell said of his client Austin Mostrong. “That’s what his belief was.“
McMahon added that co-defendant Haley Suder was quoted as telling investigators that Preston kept saying “We don’t want any trouble” during the incident.
However, the motion to dismiss the charges of torture was denied.
Judge Lantz Lewis said the evidence suggests that the defendants actions were meant as revenge.
“Why kick him in the chin? He’s down,” said Lewis. “Why hogtie him? Why drag him over to the water face down? Why pour alcohol on the open wounds? What’s the purpose behind that?”
The defendants have both pleaded not guilty to charges including kidnapping and murder. They are being held on $3 million bail.
San Diego County Sheriff's Deputies say an altercation unfolded between Austin Mostrong and another resident of the river bottom on April 20. Lowery did not fight with Austin Mostrong but may have been involved, according to investigators. He was found beaten four days later.
The victim's family said they believe the Mostrongs attacked Lowery because he had stood up for other homeless people living in the area.
The case is scheduled to go to trial in October.