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VENTURA COUNTY NEWS

Woman Says She Planned to Threaten Witnesses

Court: Associate of murder defendant Justin Merriman switches her plea. She will serve one year in jail for conspiracy to intimidate.

July 21, 1999|TRACY WILSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A day before her trial was set to begin, a 26-year-old woman admitted in court Tuesday to conspiring with white supremacist Justin Merriman to intimidate witnesses in his murder case.

Samantha Medina also admitted that she agreed to "take care of" a grand jury witness who linked Merriman to the 1992 killing of college student Katrina Montgomery because Medina wanted to assist his Ventura skinhead gang.

"She admitted that she entered into an unlawful agreement with Justin Merriman to dissuade witnesses, and admitted that she did it on behalf of the Skin Head Dogs," said Deputy Dist. Atty. Ron Bamieh, who is prosecuting both cases. "She has been identified, and she is going to get punished."

Medina pleaded guilty to one count of conspiring to intimidate witnesses and is expected to face a year in County Jail--a more lenient sentence than if she had carried out the threats.

"We got to her before she did anything," Bamieh said. "If she had contacted any witnesses, we would have sought a prison term."

Medina, a Madera County resident described by authorities as a Ventura gang associate, could be sent to prison for up to six years if she violates the terms of a one-year probation. A sentencing hearing is scheduled for Aug. 18.

Medina's change of an earlier not-guilty plea comes six weeks after she was indicted by the Ventura County Grand Jury in one of the district attorney's most far-reaching conspiracy investigations in years.

The unemployed mother is one of six women who authorities say helped Merriman, a 26-year-old Ventura resident, in his attempt to intimidate witnesses.

So far, three women, including Merriman's 51-year-old mother, Beverlee Sue Merriman, have been indicted on conspiracy charges. They are accused of writing letters to skinhead gang members that identify witnesses who testified last year before the grand jury.

As a result of the witnesses' statements, Merriman was indicted on 25 criminal charges, including the rape and murder of Montgomery.

A 20-year-old Santa Monica College student, Montgomery disappeared after leaving an Oxnard party Nov. 28, 1992. The party was held at the home of a skinhead and attended by Merriman and several of his fellow gang members. Her body was never recovered.

The case stumped authorities for years. But in 1997, Bamieh and investigator Mark Volpei began chasing down old leads and developed a case against Merriman and two San Fernando Valley white supremacists.

One of them, Lawrence Nicassio, agreed to work with prosecutors and told the grand jury that he saw Merriman rape, stab and beat Montgomery before slitting her throat with a knife. Nicassio said he was too terrified to intervene.

Merriman was indicted Jan. 6. He pleaded not guilty to the charges.

In late May, Bamieh returned to the grand jury, which indicted Merriman on charges of conspiracy and witness intimidation. The prosecutor has asked a judge to consolidate those charges with the murder charges. A trial date has been set for next March.

Merriman is being held at County Jail without bail.

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