Trial delayed in grandmother's killing

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A California man was found to be mentally competent during a recent psychological examination, but waiting on that finding prompted a Lyon County judge to postpone his murder trial, which had been set to begin this week.

Jury selection was to take place Monday in the trial of James Masterson, 23, accused of strangling his 73-year-old grandmother at her Silver Springs home in July 2010.

At an earlier hearing, Masterson's attorney requested that his client be examined for competency. During a status check last week, a Lyon County judge opted to postpone the trial date rather than risk bringing in a jury before the compentency issue was settled.

The results determined Masteron is competent to stand trial, said Lyon County Assistant District Attorney Mark Krueger.

Masterson has been in jail since his July 25, 2010, arrest.

The day before, his grandmother, Peggy Herlacher, 73, was reported missing by her children.

When officers arrived at Herlacher's home, they found her jewelry box empty and Masterson, Herlacher and her vehicle missing.

There also were what looked like drag marks in the dirt driveway, but by the time officers arrived, rain and wind had washed them away, said Lyon County Sheriff Alan Veil.

Masterson, of Riverbank, Calif., had moved into his paternal grandmother's Silver Springs home just a week earlier.

The day after her disappearance, Masterson was stopped in Sacramento while driving his grandmother's car and allegedly in possession of heroin, Herlacher's credit cards and her jewelry. He denied knowing where she was, police reports indicate.

Then, on Aug. 31, her body was found buried in Masterson's maternal grandfather's backyard in Riverbank.

Investigators said Herlacher's hands were bound and she was wrapped in a throw blanket she'd use to cover her legs as she watched television at home.

An autopsy performed at the Stanislaus County Coroner's Office in California found that Herlacher had been strangled.

Masterson is charged with felony murder and an alternate charge of first-degree murder with an "elderly" enhancement, as well as kidnapping, robbery, obtaining a credit card without the permission of the cardholder, grand larceny of a motor vehicle, grand larceny of jewelry and cigarettes, and two counts of fraudulent use of a credit card.

According to the criminal complaint, Masterson allegedly strangled his grandmother either before or after he put her into the trunk of her car at her Silver Springs home and then allegedly drove her to California, where she was buried.

The complaint also alleges that Masterson first used his grandmother's credit card to put gas into her vehicle in Silver Springs on July 22 - the last time friends or family had any contact with her.

Masterson then allegedly purchased $100 in Starbucks gift cards from the Fernley Starbucks and returned the cards to California Starbucks stores for cash, according to investigators.

No new trial date has been set. The trial is expected to take two weeks.


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