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The victim's family turns out Monday for the opening day of the murder trial of a man accused of killing a UNC-Chapel Hill student almost six years ago.


Attorneys for accused serial killer Leslie Eugene Warren said in court Monday that their client killed a 21-year-old UNC-Chapel Hill student, but they said, her death was not planned.

Defense attorneys told a judge Warren is guilty of second-degree murder but not first-degree murder, a charge that could leave him facing death or life in prison without parole.But prosecutors said Monday they will try Warren on the more serious charge, the premeditated and deliberate first-degree murder of Katherine Johnson.

If he is convicted, they will ask a jury to sentence him to death.

Warren, 27, a former truck driver from Buncombe County, already has been convicted of two murders in Asheville and in South Carolina.

He has been on death row for the Asheville murder since 1990.

Attorneys began the tedious and time-consuming task of questioning potential jurors one at a time Monday, the first day of Warren's trial in Guilford County Superior Court in High Point.

The jury selection process could take all week. The trial is expected to last three to four weeks.

Defense attorneys said Monday they will not present any evidence during the trial. Warren is not expected to testify.

Johnson, who was on summer vacation from college, was strangled with her bra after leaving a party in July 1990. Her body was found in the trunk of her car in a downtown High Point parking garage almost a week later.

In a 44-page confession, Warren told officers he met Johnson at a party at the Radisson Hotel the night before she was killed.

They went to a party at a nearby house. He said he had sex with Johnson in a hotel room and then killed her at a park and left her nude body in her car.

A judge ruled last month that prosecutors will be able to use Warren's confession at the trial. His statements led officers to Johnson's body.

At the time of Warren's confession, High Point police did not know Johnson was missing because her parents and brother were out of town.

Almost two dozen members of Johnson's family came to the courthouse Monday, including her adoptive parents, Anne and Bobby Johnson of High Point, and her biological mother, Anna Marie Stephenson of Hillsborough.

Judge Howard R. ``Rick' Greeson Jr. ordered that security officers search everyone in the courtroom for weapons, a practice he said he will continue throughout the trial.

Warren first became a suspect in 1990 after the body of his former teacher, Jayme Denise Hurley, was found near his hometown of Candler, 20 miles west of Asheville.

He has confessed to killing Hurley and three others: Johnson, of High Point, in July 1990; Velma Faye Gray, 42, of Travelers Rest, S.C., in August 1989; and Patsy Diane Vineyard, 20, of Sackets Harbor, N.Y., in April 1987.

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