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VENTURA COUNTY NEWS

Merriman's Sister Says She Lied About Blood

Courts: The woman testifies she was afraid her family would be swept up in Montgomery slaying case.

March 23, 2000|TRACY WILSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The sister of accused murderer Justin Merriman told jurors Wednesday that she lied to a grand jury 2 1/2 years ago to protect her family from investigators trying to solve the 1992 slaying of Katrina Montgomery.

Testifying in her mother's conspiracy and perjury trial, Ember Wyman said she lied out of fear that the entire family would be swept up in an aggressive prosecution.

"Basically, I was afraid," Wyman testified. "I didn't want to be involved."

Montgomery, a 20-year-old college student, disappeared after leaving an Oxnard party nearly eight years ago. Although authorities suspected she met foul play, they haven't found her body and the case went unsolved for years.

In 1996, investigators with the Ventura County district attorney's office picked up the case and renewed a probe of Merriman and two other men who also attended the Nov. 28, 1992, party.

Prosecutors allege that Merriman raped and killed Montgomery in a bedroom at his mother's Ventura home, then forced the two other men to help him dump her body in an isolated area near Sylmar.

After charging Merriman with murder and related charges, prosecutors sought an indictment against his mother, Beverlee Sue Merriman, 52.

She is accused of lying to a 1997 grand jury about her son's whereabouts on the morning Montgomery's stabbed and beaten body was allegedly carried from the Merriman home.

Two additional felony charges accuse her of conspiring with her son to threaten witnesses and induce them to give false testimony. If convicted, the Ventura bookkeeper faces six to 10 years in state prison.

During opening statements Tuesday, Beverlee Sue Merriman's defense attorney, Tamara Green, suggested to jurors that prosecutors entrapped her client during their efforts to implicate Justin Merriman in the Montgomery slaying.

Green said the defense will show during the trial, which is expected to last about three weeks, that her client committed none of the alleged crimes.

Prosecutors launched their case with testimony to provide background about Montgomery's disappearance. On Wednesday, they called Wyman to the stand to tell jurors about her mother's actions in connection with the homicide case.

Tearful and at times angry, Wyman testified that she woke up one morning in November 1992 to find her mother cleaning up blood on the carpeted staircase of the family's Miller Court condominium.

Wyman told jurors she didn't know whose blood it was, but prosecutors have previously suggested that it came from Montgomery as her body was carried from the home.

Wyman admitted she lied about there being blood on the stairs when she was first called to testify before the grand jury in 1997. After being threatened with perjury charges, she said, she agreed to an immunity deal with the prosecution in exchange for testifying again.

During a second grand jury proceeding, Wyman said, she admitted helping her mother clean up the blood. When asked by Deputy Dist. Atty. Ron Bamieh why she originally lied, Wyman said she was scared.

"I didn't want people to think something horrible like that happened at my house," she said. "I was afraid my family would be in trouble."

On cross-examination, Wyman said she felt pressured and threatened by authorities to testify.

She also testified that she saw her brother on the same day he allegedly disposed of Montgomery's body. Wyman said she vaguely recalls seeing him in the morning, which supports her mother's account of Justin Merriman's whereabouts at the time when prosecutors allege he was disposing of Montgomery's body.

Testimony is scheduled to resume today.

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