After a drug deal went wrong, three people were shot and left for dead in a California desert. Unbeknown to the suspects, the entire crime would be revealed to law enforcement by the one who survived. A guilty verdict was obtained on April 28, 2021, in the Morongo Superior Court.

In 1993, Porfirio Cardenas and Victim #1 sold about $90,000 worth of drugs to Noe Banuelos. However, Noe never paid the money.

On the night of April 14, 1994, Noe lured Porfirio and Victim #1 to his home in Coachella, where he lived with his brother, Mario Banuelos. He told Porfirio and Victim #1 he had their money for the drugs, and they could pick it up at his home.

Victim #1 asked his 17-year-old brother, Jesus Sanchez, to come with them. Jesus Sanchez was not involved in selling drugs, but he went with his brother and Porfirio to the home.

Mario Banuelos
Mario Banuelos

Once they arrived at the home, Jesus Sanchez stayed in the van while Victim #1 and Porfirio went inside the residence.

Victim #1 and Porfirio were ambushed and attacked by Noe and Mario and two unknown men. The attackers were armed and beat Victim #1 and Porfirio. Jesus was also dragged from the van and into the residence, where he was also beaten.

The victims had their hands tied behind their back by Mario and the other attackers. Tape was placed over their mouths and eyes, and the victims were placed in their van.

One of the unknown men drove the van out into the desert near Joshua Tree. While the van was still being driven, Noe and Mario opened fire on all the victims.

Porfirio and Jesus were each shot in the head, killing both of them. Victim #1 was shot six to eight times, and he was presumed dead by his attackers. The attackers left the van and the bodies in the desert and fled the scene.


Miraculously, Victim #1 was still alive. Since the attackers had left the keys in the ignition, he was able to drive the van onto Highway 62, where he was spotted by a San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Deputy. Because of how Victim #1 was driving, the deputy believed he was under the influence, and he conducted a traffic stop on the van.

Once the deputy had the van pulled over, he saw the bodies of the executed men in the back of the van and that Victim #1 was barely alive. The deputy asked Victim #1 who did this to him and the men, but since Victim #1 didn’t speak English, he wrote down the words “Noe” and “Coachella” on a piece of paper.

Within the following days, Victim #1 was interviewed in the hospital by detectives. Due to his injuries, it was hard for the detectives to get information from Victim #1. However, he was able to identify Mario as one of the suspects.


Although warrants were eventually issued in 1994 for the arrest of Noe and Mario, the brothers had fled to Mexico the day after murdering Porfirio and Jesus. Victim #1 had also traveled to Mexico once he was out of the hospital.


In 2007, our office opened up the case to see if any progress could be made in pursuing justice. Investigator Steve Rivera of the office’s Bureau of Investigation began looking into the case, and found Victim #1 had returned to San Bernardino County.

Investigator Rivera interviewed Victim #1, who gave him a very detailed recollection of the night of the murders, including what Noe and Mario specifically did to him, Porfirio, and Jesus.

Noe and Mario remained in Mexico for years. However, Noe was murdered there in July of 2018.

In January of 2019, Mario crossed the border in Yuma, Arizona. He gave his actual name as he did this, which immediately alerted officials that he was a wanted felon. He was immediately arrested.


On April 13, 2021, a trial commenced in the Morongo Superior Court. During the trial, Mario took the stand where he had a slightly different version of what had happened regarding the murders.

It turned out that Mario had been kidnapped about two weeks before the murders, which was verified by law enforcement reports taken in 1994.

Mario claimed his kidnappers included Victim #1, who threatened to kill him if he didn’t pay back the money for the drugs. Mario said he didn’t know his brother, Noe, was involved in the sales of methamphetamine until he had been kidnapped.

Mario said he fled to Mexico because he feared Jesus worked for a cartel, and he would be murdered if he remained in the United States.

Mario’s defense was that he was in the back of the home in Coachella with the wives and children on the night of the murders. Mario claimed Noe had done the murders, and he had only been brought in as a form of revenge against Victim #1 for the previous kidnapping.


Deputy District Attorney Jason Crocker prosecuted this case, with the trial ending on April 28, 2021. After only three hours of deliberation, the jury returned a verdict of guilty against Mario for both counts of First Degree Murder, Attempted Murder, Lying in Wait, and using a firearm in the commission of a felony crime.

I am very happy that after twenty-seven years, the victims and investigators who have had this hanging over them were able to receive some closure. The jurors clearly saw through the defendant’s lies and years of deceit and delivered justice with their verdict,

Justin Crocker, Deputy District Attorney

Mario Banuelos will be sentenced on July 30, 2021.

Although the Banuelos brothers were able to flee to Mexico, the San Bernardino County District Attorney’s Office continued their review of this case as the years went on, compiling more and more information to be someday used in a court of law.

Justice was obtained for Victim #1 in this case, and at least one of his attackers will be held accountable for his violent, criminal acts.