It began as a verbal argument between roommates that escalated to violence: one man was repeatedly stabbed with a knife, a killing that was captured on video, and then his body was burned in an almond orchard, according to the Merced County Sheriff’s Department in California.
The ex-girlfriend of one of the housemates went to authorities on Tuesday and told them she had seen cellphone footage of the killing, Merced Sgt. Delray Shelton said. Investigators searched the roommates’ house and found “blood splatter and other evidence” that “led them to believe that there was some sort of major crime that had been committed,” Shelton said.
Authorities arrested three men on Wednesday: Dionicio Gutierrez-Salazar, 36, Francisco Alvarez, 24 and Alexis Eduardo Garcia-Jimenez, 19. They are awaiting arraignment on first degree murder charges. Attorney information was not immediately available, and police aren’t releasing the identity of the victim.
Merced County Sheriff Vern Warnke told the Merced Sun-Star that the homicide was “cold and callous.”
“It’s just getting more bizarre,” Warnke said. “I’ve been with this department more than 36-plus years, and I guess I’m at the point where I’m never amazed anymore.”
Shelton said one suspect, whom he declined to identify, admitted during questioning to playing a role in the killing and led investigators to the almond orchard. They found a body, wrapped up in a carpet, that had been burned and left out in the open.
The victim is a man believed to be in his late 30s or early 40s, Shelton said.
Investigators haven’t determined a motive yet. They don’t believe the killing was gang related, but haven’t ruled it out yet, Shelton said. Alcohol was a factor, police said.
According to police, the killing had been captured on the cellphone of Gutierrez-Salazar, who police say stabbed his roommate and friend. All three suspects have been accused of playing a part in the murder.
“There was some sort of exchange of words between the victim and Salazar that he found to be very disrespectful, and that created a verbal fight,” Shelton said.
As for why the incident was filmed, Shelton said: “We don’t know the motive. All we can say is it doesn’t cease to amaze us about people’s acts. And I can’t say it’s for pomp and circumstance or for notoriety, or something that was forced, or something where he was trying to gain some sort of status.”
Each of the three men is being held on $1 million bond.