3 more defendants in California desert massacre that killed 6 plead not guilty

3 more defendants in California desert massacre that killed 6 plead not guilty

Three defendants who had not been arraigned in the slayings and robbery of six people during what authorities say was a marijuana deal in the San Bernardino County desert all entered pleas on Thursday, Feb. 1.

Jose Nicolas Hernandez-Sarabia, Jose Gregorio Hernandez-Sarabia and Jose Manuel Burgos Parra pleaded not guilty to six counts each of murder and robbery in Superior Court in Victorville.

They are represented by court-appointed attorneys.

On Tuesday, Toniel Baez-Duarte and Mateo Baez-Duarte pleaded not guilty to the same charges. They also are represented by court-appointed attorneys.

The suspects are accused of gunning down six people in a remote area near the community of El Mirage about 20 miles northwest of Victorville on Jan. 23. They are due back in court on Feb. 6.

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They are accused of killing Baldemar Mondragon-Albarran of Adelanto; Franklin Noel Bonilla and Kevin Dariel Bonilla, both of Hesperia; a man whose identity officials were withholding until his family could be notified; and two others not yet officially identified by authorities.

Four of the bodies were set ablaze, the Sheriff’s Department said.

Sheriff Shannon Dicus said tips from the community helped investigators develop strong leads that led to the identification of suspects through unspecified “human and technological” means.

One possibility is that investigators learned the names of possible suspects and obtained cell phone tower data that placed them at the crime scene at the time the shootings are believed to have happened.

That’s how investigators placed Charles “Chase” Merritt, who was convicted in 2020 of murdering the McStay family of Fallbrook in 2010, where their remains were buried near Victorville. And investigators pinged the phone of Austin Lee Edwards to find him in the San Bernardino County desert after he had slain three members of the Winek family of Riverside in 2022.

“If they were making phone calls, they were not very bright,” said Cal Poly Pomona criminologist Peter Hanink, referring to the defendants in court this week. “Maybe someone forgot to turn off their phone.”