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A feud over unpaid debts and control over a lucrative drug-trafficking business led to an outburst of violence in an Orange neighborhood in 2015, where residents discovered three charred bodies inside a burning SUV rolling down their street, with a fourth body tied to the murders found days later in Fontana, prosecutors told a jury for the first time in the case Tuesday, April 9.

A crew of six men — five from the Phoenix area and another from Mexico, who prosecutors said was tied to the Sinaloa Cartel — all have been accused of participating in the sprawling murder plot that ultimately left brothers Edgar Berrelleza-Soto, 26, and Joel Mauricio Berrelleza, 35, both of Orange, and two other men dead.

Raul Gastellum Flores, 33, of Phoenix, is the only suspect so far to face a jury. He appeared inside a Santa Ana courtroom on Tuesday, the first day of his trial on four counts of murder for what Orange County prosecutors said was his part in the plot.

Wearing a blue suit and black glasses, his long hair pulled back in a bun, Flores sat quietly next to his attorney, listening as Deputy District Attorney Harris Siddiq sketched out what he believed to be Flores’ involvement in the killings.

Siddiq accused Flores of agreeing to help Rosario Roman-Lopez, a former partner of the Berrelleza brothers in a cross-border drug smuggling operation, in a plot to kidnap and kill the brothers over what Roman-Lopez said was their failure to pay him back for hiring a coyote.

Siddiq said Roman-Lopez promised to pay Flores just $2,000 to take part in the plan.

“He knew this was dangerous,” Siddiq said of Flores. “But he signed right up.”

Flores is on trial after his 2018 arrest in Oklahoma by U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agents investigating a separate drug trafficking operation. While he was in custody, a detective with the Orange Police Department traveled to Oklahoma to interview him.

Siddiq said that in a series of interviews, Flores admitted to being part of the crew that ambushed the Berrelleza brothers and two other victims, Antonio Medina, 19, of Glendale, Arizona and Fernando Meza, 20 of Phoenix.

Berrelleza-Soto was in the drivers seat of his GMC SUV, parked in his driveway on East Oakmont Avenue on Nov. 9, 2015, with Media and Meza in the back. Siddiq said Flores and two other men suddenly drove up in a vehicle that blocked the GMC.

Flores and another man, both armed with guns, and a third armed with a knife, threatened the trio in the GMC, and attempted to bind their hands with duct tape. Within minutes, all three victims would be dead: Berrelleza-Soto and Medina died after being shot in their heads, while Meza, injured both from gunshots and stabs from the knife, ultimately died from smoke inhalation, Siddiq said.

In the interview with the detectives, Flores admitted to dousing the bodies with gasoline, then lighting them on fire with a cigarette lighter. A video from a nearby porch camera captured Flores jumping out of the GMC as it caught fire, then running to a car waiting just behind.

Later, Roman-Lopez and other members of the crew kidnapped Joel Berrelleza, holding him in another vehicle they were driving toward Fontana.

Siddiq said when Joel Berrelleza asked Roman-Lopez for a cigarette, Roman-Lopez told him “no” then shot him three times point blank inside the car. Roman-Lopez then filmed with his cell phone as the crew taunted Berrelleza as he died from the gunshots, video that was played for the jury in court Tuesday.

Attorneys said Roman-Lopez was killed in Mexico months after the Southern California murders.

Flores has not been accused of firing a weapon during the Oakmont Avenue killings. Prosecutors instead leaned on his participating in what they said was a conspiracy to kidnap and kill the victims.

Cameron Talley, an attorney for Flores, disputed whether Flores knew Roman-Lopez intended to kill the Berrelleza brothers.

Talley did not give an opening statement Tuesday. He said Flores intended to testify in his own defense during the trial.

Flores was one of three men arrested who were accused of being part of the crew. The others were Alejandro Guerrero Ruiz of Orange and Angel De Jesus Barreras of Ontario.

Ruiz took a deal in 2020, agreeing to plead guilty to robbery if prosecutors dropped the murder charges against him. Siddiq said Ruiz was a street-level dealer for the Berrelleza brothers at the time and acted as a scout for the rest of the crew, telling them how much money the brothers had on them at the time and discussing their locations.

Barreras continues to face murder charges in the case, but he has not faced a jury yet. His case was sealed, according to court records.

The two final suspects in the case, Alex Corral and Juan Castro, have not yet been arrested.