Two of three men accused in the slaying of a Coachella Valley couple who went missing more than three years ago are expected to be arraigned on murder charges Thursday.
Manuel Rios of Coachella and Abraham Fregoso Jr. of Indio were arrested over the weekend along with Jesus Ruiz Jr. in the killing of Audrey Moran, 26, and Jonathan Reynoso, 28, sometime after the couple disappeared on May 10, 2017.
Rios, 28, is charged with two counts of murder, and Fregoso, 32, is charged with one count of murder. The pair are expected to make their initial court appearances via video conference from jail Thursday afternoon before a judge at the Banning Justice Center.
Both are also facing a special circumstance allegation of killing a witness of a crime, which make the defendants eligible to receive the death penalty if convicted, although Riverside County District Attorney Mike Hestrin said Tuesday that a decision on whether to seek capital punishment has not yet been made.
Ruiz, 41, pleaded not guilty on Wednesday to two counts of being an accessory to murder after the fact. His exact role in the alleged murders has not been disclosed.
Riverside County Sheriff Chad Bianco said during a news conference Tuesday the victims were known to their alleged killers, but would not comment further.
Bianco told reporters the arrests stemmed from a three-year investigation that included more than 50 search warrants and hundreds of interviews. He said investigators had recently discovered what were believed to be the couple’s remains somewhere in the Coachella Valley.
He said the DNA results, however, had not yet come back to verify the identity of the remains.
“The investigation that led us to the remains indicate we did find them,” Bianco said, but he would not be more specific about where and when the bodies were found.
Rios had been locked up in a Riverside County jail since February in an unrelated case when he was charged in the killings.
Fregoso was serving time in a state prison in San Luis Obispo when he was transferred back to a Riverside County jail to face his charge. Fregoso was convicted last year of possessing a controlled substance for sale in Riverside County, a felony.
And Ruiz, who remains in custody at the Riverside jail in lieu of $500,000 bail, was taken into custody in Stockton on Friday, but he has spent most of his life as a Coachella Valley resident, Bianco said.
During the news conference Tuesday, Bianco deflected most of the questions posed by reporters, citing an ongoing investigation that he said could yield additional witnesses or the identities of additional people involved. He declined to discuss a motive for the killings.
Hestrin said he was “very confident” that the charges against the three men were warranted.
At least two digging operations were reported in east valley residential neighborhoods recently, including one in Indio and another in Coachella, where sheriff’s deputies were seen removing large swaths of earth with heavy machinery. Bianco confirmed these digs were related to the investigation.
Moran was last heard from when she left her Coachella home to pick up Reynoso, who may have been returning to the Coachella Valley from the Brawley area the day the couple went missing, according to investigators.
Moran said she was going to give Reynoso a ride to his Palm Desert home, but the SUV she drove was found parked on the side of Interstate 10 in Beaumont two days after the pair were last heard from.
A police bloodhound detected their scent near the SUV, but the trail disappeared about 50 feet from the vehicle, authorities said.
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