Trial underway for Merced restaurant owner killed with hammer

MERCED, Calif.

Evan Lovett appeared in court for less than 20 minutes during the first day of his murder trial. The 22-year-old is accused of killing Benjamin Munsayac.

At the in-home care facility he owned in February of 2012. The deputy district attorney told juror's Lovett beat the victim on the body and head with a hammer until he died.

Munsayac's loved ones cried in the courtroom when the prosecutor showed a picture of his body.

"It was just hard, shocking, and we never expected to see him that way," said Estrella Delgadillo, the victim's friend. "It must have been a hard and painful death for him."

Munsayac was known for opening Merced's first Filipino restaurant, and friends say he was well liked and respected in their community.

Delgadillo added, "I know him as a happy person, very giving, kind, hard working, very committed to his work and his family."

Investigators say Lovett briefly worked at Munsayac's care facility and felt he was owed money. They say after the deadly attack, he stole Munsayac's car and went to a motel where he told friends what happened. He later drove away and crashed into a canal ditch. Police found Lovett hiding in some oleander bushes and say he was covered in Munsayac's blood.

The prosecutor also told jurors Lovett had scratches on his face, and his DNA was found under the victim's fingernails. The defense attorney reserved his opening statement, so it's not clear yet what arguments he plans to make for his client.

"I wish we had more going on in court today," said Delgadillo. "It was just so short, and I hope the verdict will be fair and reasonable and especially for the family who has suffered so much."

Lovett spent a week in jail just days before the homicide on misdemeanor charges. He's now charged with first degree murder, with three special circumstances, including torture. His trial is set to resume Thursday morning.

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