Two drug dealers begged for their lives and desperately tried to escape a locked toolbox before it was submerged in a lagoon, a Queensland court has heard.

Four men have pleaded not guilty to the allegedly “breathtakingly evil” murders on the opening day of their supreme court trial in Brisbane.

Stou Daniels, Davy Malu Junior Taiao, Trent Michael Thrupp and Waylon Ngaketo Cowan Walker have denied murdering Cory Breton and Iuliana Triscaru south of Brisbane on 24 January 2016. Daniels, Taiao and Thrupp are also accused of torturing the pair.

Thrupp pleaded guilty to Breton and Triscaru’s manslaughter but the Crown rejected the plea.

Crown prosecutor David Meredith said all of the people involved were dealers and users of drugs.

The court was told on Tuesday the motive stemmed from a photograph of a smiling Daniels captured on CCTV on 22 January – two days before the murders.

The owner of a convenience store who sold burner phones and purchased drugs from Breton asked him where he sourced his drugs and was told “Islanders”, the jury was told.

The owner then sent Daniels’ CCTV image to Breton asking if “that was him”. Breton replied: “Yes, that’s him.”

Daniels became wary when told about the photo and was convinced he was being set up, the court was told.

“The prosecution says that the motive for all of this was Daniels being suspicious of Cory Breton,” Meredith said.

The victims were lured to a Kingston unit, tortured, assaulted and bound with tape and zip ties before being put in the toolbox, the prosecutor told the jury in his opening address.

The box was allegedly put onto the back of a ute and dumped in the Scrubby Creek Lagoon south of Brisbane. More than two weeks later, on 11 February, police divers found the bodies in the box weighed down by concrete blocks and tyres.

The bodies were so badly decomposed doctors could not determine a cause of death – only that the pair could have died from asphyxiation or drowning.

“The evidence seems to be that they were still alive when they were put into Scrubby Creek,” Meredith said. “According to witnesses, they were still yelling and kicking at the toolbox when they left the apartment complex.”

Toll cameras captured images of the utility with the toolbox strapped to the tray on the Logan Motorway about 8.50pm before the toolbox was dumped in the lagoon.

“If these things are true this killing is extraordinarily barbaric,” the prosecutor said.

“These people were put into a toolbox and kept there for several hours – obviously fearing what might happen to them. They were taken to a creek and drowned … it’s breathtakingly evil.”

Lawyers for the accused urged the jury to keep an open mind, saying key witnesses in the crown case had mental health issues with a history of drug and alcohol abuse.

The trial, set down for four weeks, is continuing.

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