Member of trio accused of abducting, killing Anza man arraigned

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Diane Sieker photo

MURRIETA (CNS) – One of 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 pleaded not guilty today to first-degree murder.
Joe Anthony Serna, 35, of Anza was arrested in January following a weeks-long investigation into the death of 42-year-old Brian Messina.
Along with the murder count, Serna is charged with assault and a special circumstance allegation of killing in the course of a kidnapping.
He was arraigned before Riverside County Superior Court Judge Judith Clark, who scheduled a felony settlement conference for May 20 at the Southwest Justice Center in Murrieta and kept the defendant’s no-bail status in place.
His co-defendants are George Frank Holley Jr., 37, of Oklahoma City, and Nico Manuel Zahir, 26, of Anza.
Zahir was arraigned last month, pleading not guilty to the same charges, as well as sentence-enhancing gun and great bodily injury allegations.
Holley is awaiting extradition from Oklahoma and is charged with murder and kidnapping.
Sheriff’s investigators allege the defendants suspected that 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 last Nov. 29, 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 alleges.
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 and 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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