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VENTURA COUNTY NEWS

Witnesses Say Suspect's Mother Hid Evidence

Courts: Acquaintances of Justin Merriman, who is charged with murder in Montgomery slaying case, testify family cleaned bloody footprints.

March 24, 2000|GINA PICCALO | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

In stark contrast to her tidy appearance in court Thursday, testimony from Justin Merriman's friends depicted his mother as an accomplice in the slaying of Kristina Montgomery, who diligently scrubbed blood off the stairs of her home, and even hired professional cleaners to help--while reporting nothing to police.

Merriman is accused of raping and murdering 20-year-old Katrina Montgomery in a bedroom at his mother's Ventura home in the predawn hours after a rowdy gang party Nov. 28, 1992, in north Oxnard. Prosecutors say he forced two other men to help him hide her body in Sylmar. Montgomery's body has never been found.

Jeremy Rice, who dated Merriman's sister Ember Wyman, testified that on the day following Montgomery's disappearance, his girlfriend told him that she had spent all night helping her mother clean bloody footprints off the stairs in the Merriman home. Carpet cleaners were at the house when Rice arrived, he said.

"She was nervous and scared," Rice testified. "She told me . . . that she thought something terrible had happened."

According to Rice, Justin Merriman, an avowed skinhead, also told his sister shortly after his 20-year-old girlfriend was killed "I'm going to hell for sure, for what I've done."

Rice's statements came during the third day of testimony in Ventura Superior Court in the conspiracy and perjury trial of Beverlee Sue Merriman. Much of the testimony is expected to resurface in September when her 27-year-old son goes on trial in Montgomery's murder.

His 52-year-old mother is accused of lying to a 1997 grand jury about where her son was the morning Montgomery's body allegedly was carried from her house.

She is also accused of threatening witnesses and inducing them to give false testimony. If convicted, she faces six to 10 years in state prison.

Defense attorney Tamara Green contends her client is innocent and has been entrapped by police and prosecutors to implicate her son in the killing.

Testimony on Thursday centered mostly on Justin Merriman and the lifestyle he led. His friends depicted Merriman as one of a core group of young Ventura County outsiders who founded a white power gang in the mid-1980s to protect themselves from the ethnic gangs that dominated the county. Violence and intimidation bound the members to one another and earned them respect, testimony showed.

Beverlee Sue Merriman, who wore a neat blue sweater and slacks to court, offered polite nods to the court bailiffs and listened to the testimony with interest, often exchanging words with her attorney.

One of Merriman's girlfriends testified that his mother gave them money for drugs and possibly lied to a grand jury to protect her son from murder charges.

"She said she could have perjured herself," said Annette Berryhill, who lived with Justin in Beverlee Sue Merriman's home in 1997.

A few years earlier, Justin Merriman was embroiled in a relationship with Montgomery so combative that he warned friends to keep them apart, his friends testified.

The night of the party, Merriman ordered his friend and fellow gang member Scott Porcho "no matter what happens, make sure [Montgomery] stays away from me," Porcho testified.

But Montgomery didn't stay away. Several times that night, she crept up behind Merriman and hooked her arm around his waist. Each time, Porcho would lead her away.

At one point, Porcho said, he had to pull Merriman's other friends off of her during a scuffle, an action that launched a bloody fist fight that ended the party.

"I looked up and Larry [Nicassio] was choking Katrina," said Porcho. "He pulled a knife from his pocket and smiled."

But that violent confrontation didn't dissuade Montgomery from visiting Merriman about 5 a.m., a trip Porcho and his wife begged her not to make.

"She was mad at us, because she said we were trying to control her life," Porcho said. "She wanted to be with Justin."

Testimony is scheduled to resume before Judge James P. Cloninger today.

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