By Brinda Kalita and Ava Schwartzapfel
RIVERSIDE, CA- The Mario Renteria murder trial proceeded Tuesday in Riverside County Superior Court with more witness testimony, and testimony from Mario Renteria, who has been on trial for murder, arson and grand theft auto.
The first witness called to the stand was Aaron Marshall, a deputy coroner for the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department, who said he had found a cartridge case for a firearm in the shed where the alleged murder had taken place. This firearm is the one that was suspected to be used by Renteria during the murder.
From his tests, Marshall concluded that the cartridge was “most likely” either one from the same firearm found in the shed or one from a similar model.
The defense then attempted to weave doubt into Marshall’s conclusion by questioning Marshall’s use of the phrase “most likely” and asking whether there was latent fingerprint or DNA testing on the gun and cartridge.
However, Marshall said there was latent fingerprint testing done on the cartridge and the gun, and there was fingerprint powder on both items.
Judge John Molloy then asked Marshall what he meant when he said “similar model.” Marshall then clarified that the cartridge could have either been fired by the specific pistol found in the shed or any pistol that was manufactured in the same time period as the pistol from the shed.
Then, Renteria took the stand in his own defense.
Renteria said he is on medication for depression, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia, but was off medication the day the alleged murder took place.
Renteria first explained how he ended up at the crime scene in the first place, that he had an argument with his wife and visited his cousin to cool off.
After arriving at his cousin’s house, he said he went out to the backyard to build chicken coops. While he was in the yard, he saw his uncle and a random man in the shed smoking drugs together. Renteria objected to the drugs, but did drink a can of beer with the pair.
Renteria then said his uncle and the man had a conversation where they were “talking crap” with each other. However, Renteria added that he was zoned out during the exchange and he could not remember what they were saying.
All the sudden, Renteria swore he saw his uncle shoot the random man to the ground.
“Then my uncle pointed it towards me, and said it was my fault. I was in shock, I had never seen anything like this before,” Renteria stated.
After the incident and confrontation with his uncle, Renteria attempted to walk to someone named Ashley’s house, which was 12 miles away from where he was, but was stopped and arrested by the police.
Renteria was asked whether he told the police this exact story he was telling the court. Renteria replied in the negative.
“I’ve seen my uncle beat people up…he used to drink and then beat people up…wouldn’t that scare you?” Renteria replied when asked why he lied to the police in the beginning.
Renteria then added he was telling the truth now though, because he would not have to face any repercussions for telling the truth because his uncle passed away.
“When your life is in danger and you are threatened, you would do anything to get out. The police needed to hear a story, and so I made one (up),” Renteria said.
Renteria was then asked about some of his former convictions, such as robbery and carjacking. Renteria replied that he was convicted of robbery because he was ignorant of the law but he did admit that he used to be a car thief when he was a kid and served a prison term for it.
During Renteria’s re-direct, Renteria revealed that he was aware of his phone conversations being recorded while he was in prison and, because of this, he never talked about the true story until now.
When the court resumed in the afternoon, they began by swearing in a witness—Jamie Beagle.
DDA Merrill began the questioning by asking about Beagle’s contact with Renteria over the phone. Beagle confirmed that they had talked multiple times.
DDA Merrill then confirmed that they have permission to play a recording of such phone calls for the court, and asked that Beagle identify the voices of both herself and Renteria.
The long phone call includes a hysterical Beagle asking Renteria things like “What happened?” and “What did you do?” She also says things like, “I can’t help you if you don’t tell me what’s going on, you gotta tell me what happened.”
DDA Merrill then proceeded with his closing statement, noting it appeared Renteria is angry that he was caught and that he was snitched on, but he does not appear remorseful.
“The evidence that Renteria committed an act that caused the death of the victim is essentially uncontested. The defendant shot him through the heart, the lung, the chest,” said the prosecutor, adding “we can see the defendant’s intent and malice throughout every action they completed, and that they intended to kill.
“It was deliberate, weighing the consideration of his choice knowing the consequences,” Merrill stated regarding Renteria’s actions.
Defense Attorney Bosky Kathuria then presented his closing statement.
He went through the prosecution’s argument, purposely pointing out many errors that he believes they made, and explained why they are incorrect and asked for a verdict of not guilty.
“The forensic evidence in this case did not prove that my client’s fingerprints were ever recovered from the firearm in question, or from the shell casing, or from the magazine in question,” Kathuria stated.
He urged the court to consider Renteria’s potential mental capacity in the moment as he was held in isolating conditions and was filled with tons of rage, as well being under the influence of drugs.
These reasons may explain why he was in fear of his uncle and would have been defending himself, defense counsel added.
After both sides finished, Judge Molloy took a 10-minute break, and said, “Based upon having heard the evidence and having listened to the arguments of counsel I find the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt on Counts 1, 2, and 3 and I find all allegations true.”
The judge also set the murder charge to first degree murder, noting he believed Renteria was not acting in self-defense as he claimed, and referenced statements Renteria made when unaware he was being recorded.
“I kill for fun,” Judge Molloy quoted Renteria stating.