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VENTURA COUNTY NEWS

Murder Suspect Says He's 'an Upright Citizen'--and Voter

October 18, 2000|TRACY WILSON

No one is courting murder defendant Justin Merriman's vote this election season. There are no campaign mailers addressed to the 28-year-old white supremacist, no pollsters calling the Ventura jail where he is being held until his murder trial.

But Merriman wants to cast his absentee ballot.

"I'm an upright citizen," he blurted out at a recent court hearing, asking a judge to prevent prosecutors from peeking at his election picks since by court order his mail is screened for security reasons.

Ballot requests by jail inmates are rare but not unheard of in election years. Those convicted of felonies are ineligible and removed from voter rolls, but civic-minded inmates without felony records can cast ballots.

So far this year, jail officials have received few requests from the 1,496 inmates currently housed at the county's three jails. But Ventura County Sheriff's Capt. Jim Barrett said each one is taken seriously.

"I think we all recognize that [voting] is an important function of being a citizen," Barrett said.

Whether Merriman, who was convicted of a felony when he was a teenager, will have his voice heard remains to be seen. Prosecutor Ron Bamieh rolled his eyes at the thought.

"God bless America," he said.

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