Jury selection begins in Musso murder trial

Dustin Musso
Dustin Musso

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - The trial for a man accused of killing his grandfather began Monday morning and by 5:50 p.m., all 12 jurors and two alternates were chosen.

Dustin Musso, 30, is charged with first-degree murder in the death of Pete Musso, 76.

This is a jury trial, but jurors do not have to be unanimous for a conviction. Musso can be convicted if 10 of 12 jurors find him guilty.

In two sanity hearings, Dustin Musso was found competent to stand trial. A judge also gave the okay for prosecutors to use a confession Musso gave to police as evidence.

"I took the case over in December of last year, moved it, pushed it, apologized to the family for these extreme delays," said First Assistant District Attorney Prem Burns. "We picked the trial date for today that we were very serious about, the court is very serious about trying it as is the defense attorneys."

Pete Musso was killed in his Baton Rouge home in May 2009. Dustin Musso is suspected of killing his grandfather, setting the house on fire and then taking a bus to Alabama. According to the victim's granddaughter, Pete Musso took in his grandson to live with him. Pete Musso lived at a home on Glenda Drive in Baton Rouge, where a fire started around 3:40 a.m. on May 5, 2009. The East Baton Rouge Parish Coroner's Office said he experienced some sort of trauma to the head, which is why police began investigating it as a murder.

Dustin Musso was taken into custody at a bus station in Montgomery, AL, the same morning as the murder and fire. He was initially charged with felony theft, but the charges were later upgraded. In September 2009, a Baton Rouge grand jury indicted him for first-degree murder. If convicted, he faces life in prison. The death penalty has been taken off the table. Prem Burns is the prosecutor for the case. Attorney Lance Unglesby is Musso's lawyer.

"I think the physical evidence is more key," says Burns. "There is physical evidence that confirms that his defendant set the fire. There is blood from the victim, so we have DNA in the forms of blood, touch DNA, accelerant, and ignitable fluid. So I think frankly the scientific evidence even if there was not a confession is just overwhelming in this case."

"We've evaluated the physical evidence. We know what were facing and so we'll just take it one day at a time," says Lance Unglesby Musso's defense attorney.

When asked about Musso's prior courtroom antics Unglesby thinks Musso will be in check. "Well you know I've spent a lot of time with Dustin. I've gotten to know him over the years, had a social worker spend time with Dustin and I feel like we've probably spent more time with Dustin than his family I don't expect any of that," says Unglesby.

In August, Dustin Musso faced other family members in court. Burns left nothing to chance in the pre-trial hearing to determine whether the state can introduce evidence from past crimes when prosecuting Musso for the murder of his grandfather. She pointed to a 2007 issue in Virginia, when Dustin Musso talked of killing his father and grandfather, then the detective and judge on the case.

Musso ended up in a Virginia jail in 2007. Two years later, he returned to Louisiana. His father took the stand in the August pre-trial hearing and testified he felt his son was gunning for him in 2009 after Pete Musso was killed. He told the judge his son threatened to kill him and his wife and burn down the house in 2007. Dustin Musso's stepmother also testified about how he allegedly planned to kill her as well.

Unglesby also lost a bid to toss out a previous confession by his client. He said he knows it will be a tough trial. Burns also plans to bring a Virginia judge to Louisiana for the trial. Musso was convicted of threatening to kill that judge in 2007.

Opening statements begin Tuesday morning at 9:30 a.m.

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