MERCED — Jury selection is scheduled to begin today in the trial of a man accused of murdering a Merced restaurant owner.
James Lovett, 22, is charged with bludgeoning to death Benjamin Munsayac, 49, in February 2012.
Munsayac was co-owner of Traditional Filipino Cuisine, a restaurant in the Raley's shopping center in north Merced. The restaurant shut down not long after he died.
Lovett is charged with first-degree murder with three special circumstances, including committing a robbery during a murder, committing a burglary during a murder and committing murder by means of torture.
Prosecutors believe Lovett beat the victim to death with the claw end of a hammer.
Deputy District Attorney Steven Slocum said that opening statements in the case could begin by Wednesday, but he couldn't comment further.
William Davis, Lovett's attorney, couldn't be reached for comment by press time Monday.
Munsayac was killed at the Accesscare Home of Merced at 128 E. Main St. According to police reports, officers found Munsayac's body Feb. 21, 2012, in his bedroom at the home, where he worked as a licensed caregiver.
According to Merced police, the defendant's girlfriend said Lovett had been angry because he believed the victim owed him money.
Officers learned about the death after a caller reported to dispatchers that Lovett had been at the Gateway Motel on West 16th Street with blood on his pants and shoes, stating that he killed someone.
A short time later, police responding to a report of a crash in the 800 block of East Childs Avenue spotted the victim's abandoned Chrysler, and Lovett hiding in the bushes nearby with blood on his pants and shoes.
Lovett remains in custody at the Merced County Jail.
City Editor Victor A. Patton can be reached at (209) 385-2431 or firstname.lastname@example.org.