Jury selection was set to begin today for the trial of three men accused of killing a pastor's son following a confrontation in a Temecula bar that also left the young man's friend seriously injured.
Matthew Alexis Basler, 34, Marvin Justin Black, 29, and James Wing Fung, 33, could each face more than 60 years in prison if convicted of first-degree murder, attempted murder and weapons allegations in the Dec. 26, 2008, slaying of 22-year-old Ryan Joshua Armstrong and the stabbing of his friend, Joel Ross.
The defendants are each being held in lieu of $1 million bail at the Southwest Detention Center in Murrieta.
Pretrial motions in the case were heard Monday by Riverside County Superior Court Judge Angel Bermudez, who was scheduled to summon the first panel of prospective jurors Tuesday for screening as to their availability and qualifications.
According to prosecutors, Basler, Black and Fung -- all of San Diego -- went to ET Sports Lounge in Temecula on the same night Armstrong, Ross and about 10 other friends went there to play pool.
The defendants and two girls were in the middle of a game when a young woman, apparently drunk and conversing with the victims, obliviously sat a cup of beer on the defendants' table.
Black took the cup and tucked it into the woman's purse, chiding her, which caused her to tear up, prompting Armstrong to come to her defense, according to a trial brief filed by Deputy District Attorney Brandon Smith.
Smith said Armstrong and Basler exchanged words, the latter inviting the victim to step outside, which Armstrong declined to do.
The two sides cooled down, but Basler, Black and Fung allegedly conspired to feign an olive branch by apologizing profusely to Armstrong in the hope of luring him out of the bar to beat him, according to court papers.
The ruse failed, leading to a brief scuffle in the doorway leading to the alley, at which point bar bouncers threw all of the parties out, making them go their separate ways, Smith said.
Basler, his co-defendants and their two girlfriends piled into his pickup truck and started to leave the area, but Basler was still fuming, allegedly shouting, "I'm gonna (expletive) that guy up," according to the brief.
The defendant drove his pickup into the alleyway behind the bar, looking for Armstrong, who was in a separate parking lot with three friends, court papers state.
Basler, Black and Fung spotted the victims and jumped out of the truck, making a bee line for Armstrong. Basler and Fung were allegedly armed with pocket knives and stabbed the young man five times, including once in the heart, according to prosecutors.
Ross attempted to intervene and was stabbed four times in the side, causing him to collapse and black out. He never identified which of the defendants allegedly attacked him, according to prosecutors.
Fung's blood-stained knife was recovered at the scene, Smith said.
Armstrong, a Chapman University student and the son of Ron Armstrong, founder of Wildomar-based Cornerstone Community Church, died that night in a hospital.
Based on eyewitness statements, including from the two women who were with them, the defendants were identified and arrested within a few days.