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VENTURA COUNTY ROUNDUP | West County / Ventura

Suspect in Slaying Challenges Evidence

October 07, 2000|TRACY WILSON

Attorneys for murder suspect Justin Merriman are asking a judge to suppress key evidence obtained by prosecution informants, saying investigators used deceitful and illegal tactics to build a case against their client.

The evidence includes numerous tape-recorded statements in which Merriman allegedly admits involvement in the 1992 slaying of college student Katrina Montgomery.

The statements--captured by informants wearing hidden listening devices inside the Ventura County Jail--were obtained while Merriman was awaiting trial in an unrelated felony case.

In some instances, the statements were obtained after informants used phony documents to either gain Merriman's trust or mislead him into believing a murder case was building against him.

Attorney Willard Wiksell accused prosecutors during a court hearing Friday of using deceitful tactics to get around the law that requires defendants to be advised of their rights before making statements to police or their agents.

"It is our view that because of the trickery and deceit of law enforcement in this case, all the statements should be suppressed," Wiksell argued. "What they did violated fundamental fairness."

Superior Court Judge Vincent O'Neill Jr. is expected to hear more arguments next week.

Outside the courtroom, Senior Deputy Dist. Atty. Ron Bamieh defended the techniques used by district attorney investigators.

He said prosecutors spent about a month researching the legality of their planned operations before making a move, and argued that all of the statements were obtained legally.

"We were very aggressive, I admit it," Bamieh said. "If you are going to catch people who are criminally sophisticated, you have to be sophisticated."

Merriman is facing murder, rape and related charges stemming from the Nov. 28, 1992, slaying of Montgomery. Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty and his trial is expected to get underway later this year.

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