The brutality that ended their sons’ lives was met in the courtroom with a chorus of sobs.
Alicia Moore and Lola Rios sat crying side by side Thursday as a Yolo County prosecutor grimly, graphically told a jury how their boys, Elijah Moore and Enrique Rios, were killed and why.
The short answer: Three ounces of marijuana, stolen by Moore at the end of a pellet gun in a Kentucky Fried Chicken parking lot, prosecuting Yolo County Deputy District Attorney Kyle Hasapes told jurors as trial in the boys’ killings began Thursday.
The longer answer, prosecutors say, is a tale of pitiless revenge exacted at a remote riverbank near Knights Landing.
In the space of weeks in October and November 2016, investigators said, Rios was shot to death and Moore was bound at the hands and feet, bludgeoned to death, then shot in the head. Their bodies were burned and buried in a shallow grave. Their remains have yet to be found.
“Three ounces of revenge,” Hasapes said. “David Froste wanted blood. He wanted Elijah dead.”
David Froste, 27, faces two counts of murder and kidnapping along with special circumstances in the killings. He sat unblinking, clad in a black suit next to his attorney Martha Sequiera, as he listened to Hasapes’ account and the sobs of the women seated behind him.
Froste’s brother, Jonathan Froste, 21, made a deal with prosecutors in recent weeks to testify against his older brother. He will serve a sentence of 15 years to life in the kidnap-slayings in exchange for his testimony. The others connected to Rios’ and Moore’s killings also face court dates.
Chandale Shannon, 21, was found incompetent to stand trial. He faces a hearing Oct. 12 in Woodland to evaluate whether he remains unfit or whether criminal proceedings can resume against him. Jesus Campos, 18, returns to court Jan. 3. Both also face murder and kidnap charges.
Hasapes said trouble began for Rios and Moore with the October 2016 parking lot stickup of Froste and partners Shannon and Campos at the KFC. Moore fled with the weed as Froste and his crew searched for him. They couldn’t find Moore, so they went after his friends, including Rios.
Shannon knew Rios and sent him Facebook messages. There was a party in Knights Landing, Hasapes said Shannon told Rios. Shannon picked up Rios. Froste and Campos were in the car. The drive ended at the Sacramento River.
“You’re going to help me find Elijah,” Hasapes said Froste demanded, shouting at Rios to get out of the car.
A terrified Rios tried to run away. He was shot in the midsection and again in the back of the head, Hasapes said as Lola Rios cried in the gallery.
Seventeen days later, Froste and his crew found Moore at a Woodland barber shop. He had just gotten paid from his school’s work program and cashed the check at a nearby check cashing outlet.
Froste’s orders were direct, Hasapes said: “Take off your shoes. Give me your phone. Get into this trunk.” Froste picked up a gun he had stowed at Shannon’s place and they drove out to the area where Rios was killed little more than two weeks before.
Moore begged the men not to kill him. He told them to tell his mother he loved her.
They zip-tied Moore instead before marching him a quarter-mile away from the car.
“This is where your friend is buried,” Hasapes said Froste told him. “You’re going to be buried there with him.”
“He finished his revenge that night,” Hasapes said of Froste.
Alicia Moore couldn’t take any more. She left the courtroom in tears.
Outside the courthouse, Alicia Moore and Elijah’s aunt, Robin Trail, spoke with reporters, their anguish and disbelief plain to see.
“What they did to both of them – it’s uncalled for. They had plans. And they took their lives for nothing. I’m mad that I even have to look at them in court, because I can’t find my son. We can’t find Elijah. We can’t find Enrique,” Moore said. “It’s a nightmare. He took my other children’s brother – the baby boy. He took that from us.”
Rios, 16, and Moore were friends and classmates at Cesar Chavez School in Woodland when Rios disappeared in Oct. 17, 2016, days after the holdup. Moore vanished weeks later on Nov. 4, a day after his 17th birthday.
Rios’ mother, stepfather and a neighbor friend were the last ones to see him. Moore was last seen at a check cashing outlet in downtown Woodland.
Police were soon joined by FBI agents to solve a mystery that gripped Yolo County and brought in tips from across the country.
Defense attorneys had argued at the July preliminary hearing for the Froste brothers, Shannon and Campos that without the bodies of Moore and Rios, prosecutors did not have evidence to take the case to trial.
On Thursday, defense attorney Sequiera said prosecutors had the wrong man, pinning Froste as the ringleader of the deadly plot on the word of his little brother and not much else, suggesting it was Jonathan who carried out the killings.
The brothers had a “complicated history” with an abusive home life and child welfare visits, Sequiera said. By the time they were older, Jonathan was closer to friend Shannon, Sequiera said.
“Blood may not be thicker than water,” Sequiera told the jury. “He told his mom, ‘It was me or him.”
Jonathan Froste followed news accounts from Yolo County Jail, parroted what he had heard and read about the case to investigators, all to send his brother away and cement his own deal, the defense attorney said.
“The deal was the only life preserver Jonathan Froste had. He didn’t tell the truth,” Sequiera said. “He gave law enforcement the heavy they always wanted.”
Testimony begins Tuesday before Yolo Superior Court Judge David Rosenberg.