‘Are You a F****** Cold Blooded Killer?’ Yelled at Man Grilled Over Alleged Killing; String of Witnesses Heard in Renteria Murder Trial

By Isabelle Brady and Brinda Kalita

RIVERSIDE, CA – The weeklong Mario Renteria murder trial continued Thursday with more witnesses testifying and Deputy District Attorney Stephen Merrill playing an hour of an audio of Renteria’s first interview with police after his arrest.

Renteria is on trial for murder, arson and grand theft auto. It is a bench trial, meaning there is no jury.

The first witness called Thursday was one of Mario Renteria’s cousins. DDA Merrill asked her to explain what had occurred on April 9, 2018.

Renteria’s cousin then told the story about how Renteria came to her home that day and was building a chicken coop in their backyard.

She then went out to the backyard herself and visited the shed. That was when she saw a man lying in the shed, dead.

DDA Merrill then attempted to ask some more questions about what happened after she had discovered the dead man in the shed. However, Renteria’s cousin was unable to recollect her memory of any conversations she had after the discovery.

“These aren’t memories that I necessarily wanted to hold onto. I even went to counseling to forget them,” she replied after being shown an exhibit to help refresh her memory.

DDA Merrill then attempted to gather some details about Renteria’s whereabouts after the discovery of the body in the shed. Renteria’s cousin replied that after she had called 911 about the dead body, and her husband had left the scene with her brother. Renteria had also left the scene.

Renteria’s cousin also added that Renteria left in a green truck, but she was not sure if it was his.

In cross-examination, Renteria’s cousin was asked more questions about Renteria’s mindset the day of the incident. She then mentioned that Renteria was acting very odd that day.

“He was very distant, he was not really talking to anyone. Normally, he is a very family friendly guy,” she replied.

Then, the cross-examination became more focused on the whereabouts of the cousin’s husband, who had passed away in 2018.

Renteria’s cousin mentioned that her husband was also in the backyard the day of the incident and was closer to the shed. She added that her husband was in the back with his friend.

However, she also stated she was not actually very familiar with who her husband’s friends were and what he did with them. This was because, she said, he did not allow her to mingle with his friends and was very possessive of her.

After she called 911 about the body in the shed, Renteria’s cousin mentioned that her husband had left with her brother around the same time as Renteria.

“When I called the police, my husband was very antsy…he kept telling me he had to leave,” she noted in her testimony.

But she quickly mentioned that her husband and her brother did not leave in the same car as Renteria did.

Finally, Renteria’s cousin was asked if she recognized the gas tank that Renteria used to light his car on fire. She replied that she did not.

The next witness called to the stand was Deputy McClellan, who said he was the person to spot Renteria and his vehicle at the scene and arrested him. He then added that, when asked, Renteria immediately identified himself.

Meanwhile, in his cross-examination, Deputy McClellan was asked to recall whether Renteria was the only person in the car or not. McClellan replied that he was unsure, as only Renteria had exited the car.

Then, McClellan was asked if he had seen either a firearm or a gas tank at the scene where he arrested Renteria. He responded in the negative to both.

Sergeant Kagan was the next witness to be called to the stand.

During his direct examination, Sergeant Kagan revealed that he was the one that would drive Renteria to different prisons and to court if necessary. However, there was one drive that stood out in particular to Kagan.

‘While we were driving past Renteria’s house, Renteria immediately asked, ‘If I gave you my gun, would you let me go see my daughter?’ I then told him that I am not in charge of that kind of stuff,” Kagan stated.

But, later in the drive, Kagan noted that Renteria had mentioned that the gun was located under the boiler of a vacant house. But Renteria did not mention to him where the house was located.

During his cross-examination, Kagan was asked to verify Renteria’s statements with what was actually found at the crime scene. Kagan stated that Renteria mentioned that there was a gun in the boiler of the car.

However, Kagan also added that, according to his department’s investigation of the car, there was no gun in the boiler or a gun not far from the car.

Then, Investigator Manjarraz was called to the stand, and he said he found a California ID card that belonged to the accused along with a shell casing of a bullet. He also added that the shed was in disarray, and that there were smears of blood on the doors and on the fertilizer bags on the ground.

Manjarraz also clarified that it was only his job to find the items in the shed, and that he usually sent his findings to private investigators in his department for further investigation.

He was then asked if he had seen a glass pipe in the shed. Manjarraz stated that he did not.

Chief Fire Investigator Smith was the next witness to be called to the stand, to recount the steps he took in order to come to his conclusion about how the fire in Renteria’s car was caused.

Smith had arrived at the crime scene at 9 p.m. He noted that there was a dark burned area and grass along with a burned vehicle. He then stated that he found a gas can in the floorboard of the car, five metal gas cans located on the right side of the vehicle, and a shell case that he assumed belonged to a bullet.

Based on these findings, he concluded that the passenger area of the car was the origin of the fire and that the fire was arson.

Smith said some of the factors that he included in his analysis were the proximity and progression of the fire, analysis of all of the places where a fire could be ignited, and hypothesis of certain locations where the fire could take place.

He also added that he took into consideration some of the specifics from the case that could help him determine whether it was arson or not.

These included things such as finding the deceased person in the trunk, the fact that the suspected arsonist had allegedly committed a series of crimes before, the fact that the car was in a remote area, and the origin of the fire being in the passenger seat.

However, he also mentioned that there were no witnesses at the scene, therefore he cannot be 100 percent sure that it was arson.

DDA Merrill began the afternoon by questioning Anthony Johnson, a senior investigator with Riverside County.

Investigator Johnson testified to there being “a 45 caliber casing that was recovered near the rear center console of the burned vehicle,” but there were no, to his knowledge, “any latent fingerprints recovered from that 45 caliber casing.”

After Investigator Johnson, DDA Merrill called Chief Forensic Pathologist of Riverside County Mark Fajardo to the stand. He performed the autopsy of the victim on April 12, 2018

During the autopsy, Dr. Fajardo said that there was “considerable damage to the body” because it had been in a fire, “including having portions of the body destroyed by the fire itself.”

There was also a gunshot wound. The “bullet entered the left side of the chest, grazed the heart, and went through the left lung.” Dr. Fajardo determined that the victim’s cause of death was “gunshot wound of torso.”

He also testified that there were controlled substances in the victim, including “methamphetamine, its byproduct of metabolism, amphetamine, and cannabinoids, as well as alcohol.”

He explained amphetamine is a metabolite–“it’s what the body produces after it metabolizes methamphetamine.” Cannabinoids refer to marijuana, he added.

Dr. Fajardo’s time on the stand ended with a final question about him testifying that the cause of death was a gunshot wound to the torso.

Renteria’s defense attorney asked, “But your testimony today has nothing to do with the identity of the shooter?”

“Correct,” said Dr. Fajardo.

The last witness called was an investigator with the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department, Dan Moody.

While investigating, Investigator Moody had informed a colleague to look for a vacant house in the area. He later went into that vacant house after writing a search warrant for it.

There was a firearm in the house, he said, located “in the garage, underneath the water heater that was elevated, up off the ground.”

DDA Merrill also established during Investigator Moody’s testimony that Moody interviewed Renteria at the police station. He then pulled out an audio recording of that interview and proceeded to play it until Judge Molloy recessed for the day.

The recording began with Investigator Moody greeting Renteria on the morning of April 10, 2018.

After asking Renteria when his birthdate was, Investigator Moody asked about his phone number, noting, “If I need to call you and wish you happy birthday, what’s the phone number? Do you know that number?”

Investigator Moody later began talking about how long Renteria had been sitting at the table in the interrogation room.

“Five hours,” Renteria said.

“You’ve been here a long time, right? You’re probably wondering why,” the investigator continued. “Or do you want to tell us why, right?

“Because you’re here at a police station, because you’re cuffed to the table, you can’t go anywhere…have you ever heard of your Miranda rights? I wanna talk to you, but I gotta read you your Miranda rights,” said Moody and then read Renteria his Miranda rights. Renteria said he understood them.

The interview continued with Investigator Moody asking questions about who Renteria’s significant other was, what his children’s names were, and what happened “the last couple days.”

About 40 minutes into the interview, their conversation becomes more heated after Investigator Moody questioned Renteria about an exchange he had where people were “talking s*** for no reason.”

“He’s all moving around,” Renteria said. It was unclear who “he” is.

In reference to the same “he,” Renteria said, “I told him, I said, ‘Who the f*** are you?…Who the f*** do you think you are?”

“You want a story,” Renteria can be heard saying shortly after.

“I don’t want a story,” Investigator Moody responded. “I want to know what happened.”

After a mostly unintelligible thread of interrogation, Investigator Moody can be heard speaking over Renteria (both were shouting):

“Are you a f****** cold blooded killer?” the investigator could be heard saying.

“I’m not a person like that,” Renteria said.

Later, after further questioning, Investigator Moody asked, “Would you rather we not come in here and talk to you and get your side of the story?”

DDA Merrill stopped the audio recording shortly after that.

Judge Molloy recessed until Monday. The trial is expected to conclude on that day.

About The Author

Isabelle is a first year undergraduate student at UC Santa Barbara majoring in philosophy. Her passions include writing, criminal justice reform and reading Kurt Vonnegut. She may or may not eventually attend law school.

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