Jury selection to begin Tuesday in homicide of Filipino restaurant owner

Published: August 26, 2013

By VICTOR A. PATTON Merced Sun Star

Jury selection is scheduled to commence Tuesday in the trial of a 22-year-old man accused of murdering a local restaurant owner.
James Lovett, is accused of bludgeoning Benjamin Munsayac, 49, to death in February 2012.

Munsayac was co-owner of Traditional Filipino Cuisine, a restaurant in North Merced’s Raley’s shopping center. The restaurant closed not long after Munsayac died. He was also a caregiver. Lovett is charged with first degree murder with three special circumstances.
Those special circumstances include 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 opening statements in the case could begin by Wednesday. Slocum said he couldn’t elaborate further on the case until it’s resolved.
William Davis, Lovett’s attorney, couldn’t be reached by press time Monday.

Munsayac was killed at Accesscare Home of Merced at 128 E. Main St. According to police reports, officers found Munsayac’s body Feb. 21, 2012 inside 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 felt 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.

Meanwhile, responding to a report of a crash in the 800 block of East Childs Avenue, police spotted the victim’s abandoned Chrysler, and Lovett hiding in bushes nearby with blood on his pants and shoes. Lovett gave numerous statements to police, including that he’d been forced to wear the bloody clothes at gunpoint by an unidentified Latino person. Lovett told police he’d worked as a caregiver at Accesscare.

He remains in custody at the Merced County Jail.

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