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VENTURA COUNTY NEWS

Merriman's Mother Saw Dead Body, Witness Says

Trial: He testifies that a friend also present said the woman had seen Katrina Montgomery being carried from home after slaying.

March 28, 2000|TRACY WILSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Beverlee Sue Merriman apparently saw her son and his friend carrying Katrina Montgomery's lifeless body from the family home just 45 minutes after her slaying in 1992, a witness testified Monday.

On the stand for a second day, Larry Nicassio told jurors that he was waiting in a truck for Justin Merriman and his friend, Ryan Bush, to bring out Montgomery's bloody body, which had been wrapped in a pink blanket after she had been fatally stabbed and beaten following a party the four attended in Oxnard.

Bush and Justin Merriman placed the body in the bed of the truck, then climbed into the cab. Nicassio said the men were both excited and upset, and Bush remarked: "I can't believe your mom saw us."

The statement was the subject of a hearing outside the jury's presence Monday as prosecutors fought to get it admitted as evidence in Beverlee Sue Merriman's conspiracy and perjury trial.

They contend that the 52-year-old bookkeeper knew from the very beginning that her son had committed a crime and tried to conceal evidence to protect him.

Specifically, prosecutors allege that Beverlee Sue Merriman lied to a grand jury about her son's whereabouts on the morning Montgomery disappeared, and later participated in a plan to intimidate witnesses by giving their names to gang members.

During Monday's hearing in Ventura County Superior Court, defense attorneys urged Judge James P. Cloninger to keep the statement out of court, arguing that it was hearsay and prejudicial to their client.

But Cloninger allowed Nicassio to tell jurors about Bush's utterance, saying it was a spontaneous statement permissible by law.

Nicassio and Bush, who are cousins, were members of a San Fernando Valley skinhead gang in 1992. On the night leading up to Montgomery's slaying, they both attended the party in Oxnard and ended up staying the night at the house Justin Merriman shared with his mother and sister.

Montgomery, a 20-year-old former Ventura High School student, also came over after the party. Nicassio said Merriman raped and stabbed the woman as he and Bush pretended to be asleep on the floor.

On Monday, Nicassio continued his testimony by telling jurors how he later agreed to help investigators to avoid being prosecuted for Montgomery's murder.

After signing an agreement in March 1998, Nicassio led authorities to the spot where he said the men buried the body--only to discover that the formally rural area called Sunset Farms near Sylmar had been graded and partly developed with buildings.

"I was upset," Nicassio testified. "I'd finally made the decision to do the right thing and I couldn't do it--I couldn't find her."

Nicassio testified that he then agreed to become an informant for the prosecution, and repeatedly wore concealed tape recording equipment while in jail on murder charges in hopes of eliciting a statement from Justin Merriman, who was being held in connection with another crime.

Justin Merriman, now 27, has since been indicted on murder and rape charges in connection with Montgomery's November 1992 slaying. His trial is set for September. Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty.

During his testimony Monday, Nicassio told jurors that on at least two occasions he met with Justin Merriman in the visiting area of the jail after Merriman's mother and his ex-girlfriend arranged to have both men brought out at the same time so they could discuss the case.

Prosecutors contend that those meetings constitute acts intended to advance the Merrimans' plan to tamper with witnesses. Defense attorneys argue that the meetings were set up by the prosecution to trap Justin Merriman and in turn his mother.

Testimony in the trial is scheduled to resume today.

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