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Murder Trial Begins

Prosecutors describe defendant's alleged slayings of woman and father. Defense denies one, says other was self-defense or accident.

November 22, 2002|Jean Guccione | Times Staff Writer

Hours after he strangled his girlfriend in her bedroom, prosecutors said Thursday, Matthew Marky fatally shot his Emmy Award-winning father as the older man sat in his backyard drinking beer. Marky then went next door and tried to shoot a roommate in the Reseda house they shared, prosecutors said.

But defense attorney James E. Blatt accused another roommate, prosecution eyewitness Ricky Schaffer, of strangling 47-year-old Maria Ruiz-Smeriglio on Aug. 5, 2001, and said Marky had shot his father in self-defense after the older man took a shot at the son.

Blatt described the household in the 18900 block of Valerio Street where Ruiz-Smeriglio, Marky and Schaffer lived as one "literally consumed in drug addiction," in which brawls and threats were commonplace. He said the three were high on drugs and alcohol on the day of the killings.

Marky is charged with two counts of first-degree murder with the special circumstance of multiple murders, attempted murder and a weapon violation.

If convicted, he could be sentenced to life in prison without parole. Prosecutors have said that they will not seek the death penalty against the 33-year-old defendant.

In his opening statement, Deputy Dist. Atty. Dmitry Gorin said Marky was furious with Ruiz-Smeriglio when he went into her bedroom on a Sunday afternoon and strangled her, though he was interrupted by Schaffer.

When Schaffer was unable to stop Marky, Schaffer drove to the Los Angeles Police Department's West Valley station to report a crime in progress but refused to give specific details, such as names or the house address, Gorin said.

Schaffer, whom Gorin called a "coward" for not doing more to save Ruiz-Smeriglio's life, left the station without providing adequate details for the police to respond, he said.

An hour later, Marky told a 911 operator that Ruiz-Smeriglio was unresponsive and might have overdosed on pills and alcohol, Gorin said.

It was not until an autopsy was performed a few days later that authorities learned that Ruiz-Smeriglio had been strangled, he said.

In his opening statement, Blatt said that Schaffer had "a very powerful motive to kill Ms. Ruiz" and that he acted suspiciously on the day that she was strangled.

Blatt said Ruiz-Smeriglio had answered Schaffer's cell phone a few days earlier and told his estranged wife that she and Schaffer were using drugs and having sex as they spoke. It was untrue, Blatt said, but the conversation enraged Schaffer and his wife

"It is our contention that he did the murder," Blatt said, referring to Schaffer.

On the day Ruiz-Smeriglio was killed, Blatt said, Marky left the house to buy liquor and, upon returning, saw Schaffer driving away.

An hour or so later, Marky tried unsuccessfully to wake Ruiz-Smeriglio and called 911, his attorney said.

That evening, after seeing police and emergency vehicles next door, William Marky asked his son to come into his backyard.

As the father and son sat talking and drinking beer, William Marky, a Vietnam veteran, went inside to retrieve his favorite handgun, a .380 Beretta. Blatt said the elder Marky loved the gun and even slept with it loaded under his pillow.

Both sides agree that Marky shot his father in the eye.

Prosecutors say Marky intentionally killed his father and hid the murder weapon, which he wrapped in toilet paper, in Ruiz-Smeriglio's attic. Gorin said Marky gave police conflicting accounts of the shooting, at first denying any knowledge of it.

But Blatt said Marky would testify that he had shot his father either accidentally or in self-defense.

The trial is scheduled to continue today before Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge John S. Fisher.

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