5 Charged with Murder in Desert Killings in Suspected Dispute over Black Market Marijuana

Connor Forbes
Connor Forbes
4 Min Read

5 Charged with Murder in Desert Killings

SAN BERNARDINO (AP) — Prosecutors filed murder charges Tuesday against five suspects in the fatal shootings of six men at a remote dirt crossroads in the desert after what investigators said was a dispute over marijuana.

The suspects each face six felony counts of murder with a special circumstance allegation of multiple murders, the San Bernardino County District Attorney’s Office said in a statement. They were each also charged with six felony counts of robbery.

The DA’s office identified them as Jose Nicolas Hernandez-Sarabia, 33; Toniel Beaz-Duarte, 35; Mateo Beaz-Duarte, 24; Jose Gregorgio Hernandez-Sarabia, 36; and Jose Manuel Burgos Parra, 26.

Toniel Beaz Duarte and Mateo Beaz Duarte appeared in court Tuesday and pleaded not guilty to all charges, the DA’s office said. They were appointed public defenders and ordered to return to court on Feb. 6.

Authorities discovered the bodies Jan. 23 in the Mojave Desert outside El Mirage after someone called 911 and said in Spanish that he had been shot, San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Sgt. Michael Warrick said during a news conference Monday.

All the victims were likely shot to death, and four of the bodies had been partially burned together, Warrick said. A fifth victim was found inside a Chevy Trailblazer, and the sixth was discovered nearby the following day, he said.

“This mass murder, done in a dark secluded desert, clearly illuminates the violence and crime that exists as a direct consequence of illegal marijuana operations,” District Attorney Jason Anderson said in Tuesday’s statement.

San Bernardino County Sheriff Shannon Dicus said Monday that the bodies were found in an area known for black market cannabis about 50 miles (80 kilometers) northeast of Los Angeles. Dicus said in 2023 his department served 411 search warrants for illegal marijuana grow sites countywide and recovered 655,000 plants and $370 million.

The suspects were arrested and eight firearms were seized after deputies served search warrants Sunday in the Adelanto and Apple Valley areas of San Bernardino County and the Pinyon Hills neighborhood of Los Angeles County, sheriff’s officials said.

Officials said investigators believe all the suspects in the case are in custody.

Authorities identified four of the victims as Baldemar Mondragon-Albarran, 34, of Adelanto; Franklin Noel Bonilla, 22, of Hesperia; Kevin Dariel Bonilla, 25, of Hesperia; and a 45-year-old man whose name was withheld pending family notification. Coroner’s officials were trying to identify the remaining two men.

Investigators believe Franklin Bonilla was the man who called 911, Warrick said.

California voters legalized recreational marijuana in 2016, and the state has become the world’s largest legal cannabis marketplace since then, with billions in annual sales. But the illegal market continues to thrive.

Dicus called the black market “a plague” that results in violence, and he called on lawmakers to reform cannabis laws to “keep legalization but revert to harsher penalties for users of illegal pot.”

In 2020, seven people were fatally shot at an illegal marijuana growing operation in a rural town in Riverside County. More than 20 people lived on the property, which had several makeshift dwellings used for the production of honey oil, a potent cannabis concentrate.

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5 Charged with Murder in Desert Killings in Suspected Dispute over Black Market Marijuana
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