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Jury Selection Begins in Rape, Murder Case

November 30, 2000|TRACY WILSON

About 500 prospective jurors filed into Ventura County Superior Court on Wednesday as jury selection got underway in the trial of accused killer Justin Merriman.

A 28-year-old skinhead gang member, Merriman is facing charges of rape, murder, conspiracy and other crimes in the slaying of 19-year-old college student Katrina Montgomery.

Merriman allegedly sexually assaulted Montgomery at his Ventura home Nov. 28, 1992, then allegedly stabbed and beat her to death before forcing two younger gang members to help dispose of the body. Her remains have not been found.

Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty against Merriman, whose trial is expected to span two months.

On Wednesday, five large groups of prospective jurors filed into a courtroom usually reserved for ceremonial events, such as the swearing in of new judges.

Superior Court Judge Vincent J. O'Neill Jr. briefly summarized the facts of the case and outlined the anticipated trial schedule.

"The total time for jurors on this case may be up to eight weeks," O'Neill said, prompting a few gasps and murmurs from the crowd.

O'Neill excused prospective jurors who have financial or personal hardships that would prevent them from serving. And the list of grievances was long.

"I could not be out of work all those weeks," one woman said.

"My employer only pays five days," said another.

Most prospective jurors were excused for such reasons. Of the first panel of 100 candidates, only 26 were called back.

Jury selection is scheduled to continue in the coming weeks as prosecutors and defense attorneys question jurors individually on their views of the death penalty, sexual assaults and gangs.

Testimony is expected to begin in January.

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