Coachella Valley

Sixth Suspect Arrested in Murder of Missing Coachella Valley Couple

A police bloodhound detected the scent of the missing couple near the SUV, but the trail disappeared about 50 feet from the vehicle, authorities said.

Riverside County Sheriff's Department

Three more people are in custody in connection with the killings of a Coachella Valley couple who went missing more than three years ago, bringing the total to six suspects, authorities said Wednesday.

Aaron Fernando Bernal, 28, of Indio was taken into custody Tuesday on suspicion of murder, and Eric Rios, 31, of Coachella was arrested that same day on suspicion of being an accessory to murder, Riverside County Sheriff's Lt. Walter Mendez said.

A third person, 27-year-old Adilene Ines Castaneda of Coachella, was also implicated in the crimes and arrested on suspicion of murder, although she was already in custody on an unrelated drug case, Mendez said.

The trio, who all remained behind bars as of Wednesday afternoon, were arrested after homicide investigators continued "working and processing investigative leads,'' but additional information was not provided.

They join three other suspects previously charged in the killings of Audrey Moran, 26, and Jonathan Reynoso, 28, who disappeared on May 10, 2017.

Manuel Rios, Abraham Fregoso Jr. and Jesus Ruiz Jr. were all arrested last month stemming from a three-year investigation that included more than 50 search warrants and hundreds of interviews.

Sheriff Chad Bianco said last month that investigators had discovered what were believed to be the couple's remains in the Coachella Valley. He said the DNA results, however, had not yet come back to verify the identity of the remains. Sheriff's officials on Wednesday did not immediately respond to a request for comment regarding the DNA results. Bianco would not be more specific about where and when the bodies were found, and offered few details about the investigation.

Manuel Rios, 28, is charged with two counts of murder. It was not immediately clear if he and Eric Rios were related. Fregoso, 32, is charged with one count of murder, and both defendants are facing a special circumstance allegation of killing a witness of a crime, which could make them eligible for the death penalty if prosecutors opt to seek capital punishment should they be convicted.

Ruiz, 41, is charged with being an accessory to murder after the fact, although his exact role in the alleged murders has not been disclosed.

Bianco said during the news conference that the victims were known to their alleged killers, but would not comment further.

Riverside County District Attorney Mike Hestrin said he was "very confident'' that the charges against the three men were warranted.

Moran was last heard from when she left her Coachella home to pick up Reynoso, who may have been returning to the Coachella Valley from the Brawley area the day the couple went missing, according to investigators.

Moran said she was going to give Reynoso a ride to his Palm Desert home, but the SUV she drove was found parked on the side of Interstate 10 in Beaumont two days after the pair were last heard from.

A police bloodhound detected their scent near the SUV, but the trail disappeared about 50 feet from the vehicle, authorities said.

The latest defendants in the case could make their initial court appearances as soon as Thursday.

Copyright CNS - City News Service
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