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VENTURA COUNTY ROUNDUP | West County / Ventura

Judge OKs Evidence Against Merriman

October 14, 2000|TRACY WILSON

In a blow to their case, lawyers for murder suspect Justin Merriman lost their bid Friday to suppress evidence obtained by undercover informants working for the prosecution.

The ruling opens to the door for prosecutors to present damaging evidence against Merriman, including alleged admissions of guilt and threats to harm witnesses.

During Friday's hearing, defense lawyers Willard Wiksell and Phil Capritto urged Superior Court Judge Vincent O'Neill Jr. to throw out numerous statements made by their 28-year-old client that were captured on listening devices worn by informants during a months-long investigation.

The lawyers argued that the statements were obtained illegally.

They accused prosecutors of using dirty tactics to build a case against Merriman, a Ventura skinhead facing rape, murder and related charges stemming from the November 1992 disappearance of Santa Monica College student Katrina Montgomery.

"I think we should be really careful when we allow violations of the law by people who are supposed to uphold the law," Wiksell argued.

But prosecutors told O'Neill that their actions were well within the bounds of the law.

The defense suggested that the prosecution informants were "agents" of law enforcement who obtained statements from Merriman without advising him of his rights against self-incrimination.

But Deputy Dist. Atty. Kevin Drescher argued that reviewing courts have found so-called Miranda warnings are not necessary if a suspect doesn't know he is talking to an agent of law enforcement.

Additionally, Drescher argued, Merriman was not a defendant in the Montgomery killing at the time of the undercover operations and legally could be questioned about the slaying because he had not yet been charged.

O'Neill agreed that the evidence, which includes numerous tape-recorded statements in which Merriman allegedly admits involvement in the slaying, was obtained legally and could be presented to a jury.

Jury selection is scheduled to begin next month.

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