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Man charged in murder of missing couple pleads not guilty

One of the six suspects believed to have been involved in the murder of a missing Coachella Valley couple plead not guilty to charges of murder and killing a witness.

Aaron Fernando Bernal, 28, of Indio made his first court appearance since his arrest on Tuesday. He is due back in court for a felony statement conference on August 4.

Bernal in court appearance

Back in 2018, News Channel 3 I-Team investigator John White went to a Coachella home, where neighbors at the time said Bernal lived, then calling him Moran's ex-boyfriend.

Search warrants revealed authorities were looking for Bernal's car and found it burned in a field in Thermal just days after the couple disappeared in an apparent arson fire.

Bernal was arrested along with Coachella residents Adilene Ines Castaneda, 27, and Eric Rios, 31, on Tuesday for the killings of Audrey Moran, 26, and Jonathan Reynoso, 28.

Aaron Fernando Bernal, Eric Rios, and Adilene Ines Castaneda

Castaneda and Eric Rios are expected to appear in court on Monday.

The arrest of this trio came nearly a month after the arrest of another three men also charged with killing the couple.

Manuel Rios, age 28 of Coachella, Abraham Fregoso, age 32 of Indio, and Jesus Ruiz Jr., age 41 Stockton, were arrested on June 25 following a three-year investigation that included more than 50 search warrants and hundreds of interviews.

Manuel Rios, Abraham Fregoso, and Jesus Ruiz Jr.

Moran and Reynoso were last seen on May 10, 2017. Moran had said she was going to give Reynoso a ride to his Palm Desert home, but the SUV she drove was found two days later on the side of Interstate 10 in Beaumont.

Jonathan Reynoso and Audrey Moran

Sheriff Chad Bianco announced on June 30 that investigators recently located remains believed to be the couple, but authorities were awaiting DNA results.

Sheriff's officials on Wednesday said an update on the DNA results was still not available.

Bernal and Castaneda have been charged with one count of murder and
accessory after the fact. They are also facing a special-circumstance allegation of killing a witness of a crime, which could make them eligible for the death penalty if convicted, and if prosecutors opt to pursue it.

District Attorney Mike Hestrin confirmed was Audrey Moran.

Eric Rios was charged with two counts of being accessory to murder after the fact.

Manuel Rios is charged with two counts of murder. It was not immediately clear if he and Eric Rios are related. Fregoso is charged with one count of murder, and both defendants are also facing a special-circumstance allegation of killing a witness of a crime.

Ruiz is charged with being an accessory to murder after the fact, although his role in the alleged murders has not been disclosed.

After looking at the two sets of criminal complaints for the six suspects, News Channel 3 confirmed Bernal, Fregoso, Castaneda, and Manuel Rios are charged with Moran's murder.

Manuel Rios is charged with Reynoso's murder.

Eric Rios and Ruiz Jr. are each charged with accessory after the fact pertaining to both victims.

Fregoso, Castaneda, and Bernal are each charged with accessory after the fact pertaining to Jonathan's murder.

The Sheriff’s Central Homicide Unit encourages anyone with information related to this case to contact investigators at line at (760)-393-3544.

Stay with News Channel 3 for continuing updates on this case.

Missing Couple Mystery / News / News Headlines / Top Stories

Jesus Reyes


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