Man Convicted of Killing 4 in Burned Bodies Case in Orange

Man Convicted of Killing 4 in Burned Bodies Case in Orange

Orange County Fire Authority firefighters extinguish flames from a car that ignited in Irvine Calif., in a file photo. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)

City News Service

City News Service

4/30/2024

Updated: 4/30/2024

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SANTA ANA, Calif.—A 33-year-old man was convicted April 29 of killing four men, including three torched in a moving car in Orange in the middle of the afternoon, amid a violent conflict between drug dealers.
Raul Gastellum Flores was convicted of four counts of murder with special circumstances of killing during a robbery and for more than one victim. Mr. Flores was scheduled to be sentenced July 19.
Mr. Flores was convicted of killing 19-year-old Antonio Medina of Glendale, Arizona, 20-year-old Fernando Meza of Phoenix, 26-year-old Edgar Berrelleza-Soto of Orange and his brother, 35-year-old Joel Mauricio Berrelleza of Orange.
Mr. Medina, Mr. Meza and Mr. Berrelleza-Soto were found in a flaming SUV rolling onto a sidewalk in front of a home in the 500 block of East Oakmont Avenue near Shaffer Street the afternoon of Nov. 9, 2015. Joel Berrelleza was found Nov. 15 in the backseat of a car in Fontana.
Co-defendant Angel De Jesus Barrera, 32, is charged with two counts of voluntary manslaughter and one count of robbery. He is next due in court May 17.
Co-defendants Alexis Corral, 31, Juan Fidencio Castro, 34, and Rosario Roman-Lopez, 32, remain at-large.
“Loaded guns, knives, duct tape, gasoline,” Senior Deputy District Attorney Harris Siddiq said in his closing argument in the trial. “This is what the defendant and his henchmen were armed with.”
After killing the three men and igniting the GMC Yukon with a cigarette lighter, Mr. Flores bailed out and dashed to a trailing car, Mr. Siddiq said.
“A fourth victim was tied up, robbed and marched out of his apartment,” he said of Mr. Berrelleza.
He was led to a car and shot multiple times, Mr. Siddiq said.
The drug peddlers had “ties to the Sinaloa Drug Cartel,” he said.
A witness told police he saw a 2007 Pontiac G6 with a man appearing to be slumbering inside on Nov. 12, 2015, and when he passed by it again near Mango Avenue and Orange Way he saw the same car and man inside and called police, who found Mr. Berrelleza’s body, which had been shot four times, Mr. Siddiq said.
Mr. Barrera was arrested Dec. 11, 2015, and told investigators he lived with the Berrelleza brothers at 2065 N. Orange-Olive Road, Mr. Siddiq said. Mr. Barrera sold drugs for the two, who got into a dispute with Mr. Roman-Lopez, the prosecutor said.
Mr. Roman-Lopez went back to Mexico to care for his ailing wife and the brothers promised to send him money as part of the drug-dealing operation, but they instead cut him out, Mr. Siddiq said.
On Oct. 28, 2015, Mr. Roman-Lopez visited Mr. Barrera with “four friends” and said he intended to kill the brothers, who, Mr. Barrera said, had $50,000 to $60,000 in cash, according to the prosecutor.
On the day of the killing, Mr. Barrera was with Mr. Roman-Lopez when Mr. Flores called saying he had the three men with him, including Mr. Berrelleza-Soto, who was pleading for his life, Mr. Siddiq said.
“This drug business was making $5,800 a day, nearly $2 million a year,” Mr. Siddiq said.
Mr. Flores “wanted in,” he said.
Mr. Roman-Lopez summoned help from Phoenix because he wanted to catch the brothers “off guard” with people they did not know, Mr. Siddiq said.
“That’s part of the plan,” he said.
The robbery involves taking phones from the brothers to help retake the drug operation, Mr. Siddiq said.
“If they wanted this drug business they had to eliminate Edgar and Joel,” he said.
Mr. Flores “is the only person present at all four murders,” Mr. Siddiq said.
After the killings, Mr. Flores went on to Oklahoma, where he was arrested by federal agents for allegedly selling drugs there, he said.
“He continued drug trafficking in Oklahoma, so it didn’t scare him, it emboldened him,” Mr. Siddiq said.
Mr. Barrera has had an agreement with prosecutors for about a year, Mr. Siddiq said. His charges were knocked down because of a change in state law regarding what elements are necessary to file murder charges.
Mr. Barrera “provided important context” that was corroborated by other evidence, Mr. Siddiq said.
Mr. Flores’ attorney, Cameron Talley, said, “This DA cuts a deal with a snitch after he gets a jury.”
Mr. Talley likened it to a Hail Mary pass in football.
Instead of life in prison without the possibility of parole, Mr. Barrera is “now facing 20 years,” Mr. Talley said.
Mr. Barrera was dishonest in his testimony, he argued.
“You wouldn’t know [about the plea deal] until I brought it out,” Mr. Talley said.
“Why cut the deal and not tell you about it” if Mr. Barrera wasn’t necessary, the defense attorney said.
He said the gun Mr. Flores has with him was not fired.
“So whose gun did he shoot?” Mr. Talley said, ridiculing the prosecution argument that Mr. Flores was the one who gunned down the victims.
He said one of the other men “went crazy and shot everyone.”
With the other co-defendants eluding authorities while prosecutors worked to file charges and Mr. Barrera seeing his charges reduced, “The only person you have left is Mr. Flores. It’s the politics of Orange PD that’s driving the bus. They’ve only got one guy left.”
Mr. Talley said police lied to Mr. Flores during questioning to get him to confess.
Mr. Flores thought the trip from Phoenix was to help with a “sit down” that “went off the rails,” Mr. Talley said.
“There was desperation to get him to confess because he was the last guy to take the fall for this,” he said.
The defense attorney said his client did not rob anyone.
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