MURRIETA (CNS) – A March 17 trial date was confirmed Friday for three men accused of abducting, severely beating and fatally shooting an Anza man because they believed he might snitch on them for perpetrating thefts at marijuana cultivation sites.
George Frank Holley Jr., 39, of Oklahoma City, Joe Anthony Serna, 37, of Anza and Nico Manuel Zahir, 28, of Anza are accused in the slaying of 42- year-old Brian Messina.
Each defendant is charged with first-degree murder, assault resulting in great bodily injury and a special-circumstance allegation of killing during the course of a kidnapping. Serna and Zahir are additionally charged with firearm assault, making criminal threats and false imprisonment.
During a status conference at the Southwest Justice Center in Murrieta Friday, Riverside County Superior Court Judge John Monterosso conferred with the prosecution and defense regarding scheduling, and all sides agreed to work toward clearing their calendars for proceedings beginning the third week of March.
Each defendant is being held without bail at the Byrd Detention Center in Murrieta.
Sheriff’s investigators allege that the men suspected Messina was secretly gathering evidence against them in connection with multiple armed thefts at illegal cannabis grows in the Azna Valley.
Holley was the first to make the allegation against his former friend, according to an arrest warrant affidavit filed by sheriff’s Detective Lance Stoyer.
He wrote that Holley had witnessed Messina using his mobile phone to record audio of conversations the men had concerning the thefts.
“Holley privately spoke to Serna about the recordings and planned to search Messina’s cellular phone without Messina’s knowledge or consent,” according to the affidavit.
The men were ultimately able to access the phone, and while scanning data, “Serna saw a social message that Messina had sent (stating) that if he — Messina — were to go missing or found dead, Serna would be responsible for the murder,” Stoyer wrote.
The three alleged conspirators became convinced Messina was a liability, prompting a confrontation at a residence in the 39600 block of Howard Road in Anza on the night of Nov. 29, 2020, according to the affidavit.
In a later interview, Holley told investigators that a verbal altercation erupted, and Serna and Zahir attacked the victim, with Zahir pistol- whipping him and Serna kicking him multiple times, the affidavit alleged.
The defendants beat Messina into submission, then forced him into a Toyota Tundra pickup and drove to a remote section of Bautista Road, where they all got out, at which point Zahir used a shotgun to execute the victim on the side of the road, Stoyer alleged.
None of the defendants have documented prior felony convictions in Riverside County.
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