Trial proceedings are slated to get under way a week from today for three Marines accused of killing a sergeant and his wife during a home invasion robbery at their French Valley residence.
Riverside County Superior Court Judge Christian Thierbach is scheduled to hear pretrial motions in the case on March 12, and jury selection could either begin that day or the following morning.
There will be three separate juries -- one for each defendant -- so testimony in the case may not begin until later in the month.
A fourth defendant, 25-year-old Kesaun Kedron Sykes, will be tried separately in August. According to Deputy District Attorney Dan DeLimon, Sykes' case was severed from his co-defendants because having four juries in one courtroom was considered untenable given the space limitations.
Each of the defendants is charged with two counts of first-degree murder, with special circumstance allegations of killing in the course of a robbery and taking more than one life in the same crime. There is also a sentence-enhancing allegation that a sexual assault occurred during the robbery.
According to testimony from a 2009 preliminary hearing, the Camp Pendleton-based Marines forced their way into the victims' two-story home at 31319 Bermuda Ave. in the middle of the night, after knocking on the door and pushing past Pietrzak when he answered.
The defendants were allegedly armed with handguns and quickly gained the couple's compliance.
Pietrzak served with the men in the same unit. His wife was a nurse at the base. They had only been married three months.
Sheriff's investigators allege the defendants beat, bound and gagged the couple before ransacking the residence, stealing jewelry and other valuables and stuffing them into suitcases that were loaded into John's Jeep Cherokee.
Cox and Sykes allegedly confessed their parts in the deadly attack, each pointing fingers at the other, according to investigators. The pair allegedly cut off Quiana's nightgown and sexually assaulted her on a table with various objects while her husband was forced to watch, according to testimony.
A fellow Camp Pendleton Marine, Justin Weissinger, testified that Miller and John detailed their involvement in the slayings during a conversation with him.
Weissinger alleged the men said they positioned the victims on a sofa and shot both in the head twice, using cushions to suppress the gunfire.
Why the newlyweds were targeted has not been confirmed, though there were racial overtones, with epithets scrawled on a wall in the residence.
Pietrzak was white, of Polish descent, and Quiana, a San Bernardino native, was black.
Some of the items taken during the robbery were later recovered from the defendants' living quarters, according to investigators.
Cox's girlfriend testified that he brought two recently fired pistols into her Fallbrook apartment the morning after the slayings.
In 2011, Sykes' attorneys claimed he was mentally unfit to stand trial, and a jury subsequently found that he was competent.
The defendant are all being held without bail at the Southwest Detention Center in Murrieta.--City News Service