The trial of Alejandro Hernandez Rivera, who is accused of leaving a gay senior in a burning home, began Monday in a Contra Costa County, California courtroom, the Contra Costa Times reported.

The 24-year-old Rivera pleaded not guilty last year to the murder of Theodore Neff, 66, a retired gay man.

Neff and Rivera met through an ad listed in the adult services category of the classifieds website Craigslist. Friends say they believe the relationship began in July 2008.

On December 3, 2008, authorities say the two men got into an altercation that turned violent, and Rivera allegedly strangled Neff.

Afterward, the escort returned to Neff's Bay Point townhouse to retrieve several items including a gold-plated Nagahara flute worth $23,000 and set the house on fire.

Firefighters who were called to the two-alarm fire at 10PM retrieved Neff's body but said he was already dead. An autopsy revealed Neff died from strangulation.

Police investigators say they caught up with Rivera when he attempted to sell the Nagahara flute to dealers in New York and Boston. Several of Neff's flutes were found in Rivera's possession.

The case has been nicknamed “the case of the golden flute.”