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Trial starts in vicious art gallery killing

SARASOTA — The strange, grisly slaying took place in a Sarasota art gallery more than five years ago.

On Jan. 16, 2004, investigators say Elton Brutus Murphy stabbed his victim more than 20 times inside an art showroom, then posed her body like that of a woman in a nearby painting.

He cut off her clothing, removed her shoes, then placed them neatly next to her corpse, according to police reports.

This week Murphy goes on trial, charged with murder in the death of 61-year-old Joyce Wishart, found dead Jan. 21, 2004, inside her Provenance Gallery.

At the time of the killing, Murphy lived in a boarding house on Shade Avenue.

Jury selection is expected to begin today, and opening statements are expected Wednesday, said Carolyn Schlemmer, Murphy’s public defender.

Lawyers in the case anticipate the trial to last about eight days.

During the trial, Schlemmer plans to present four doctors to testify her client is not guilty by reason of insanity.

Sarasota detectives said they think Wishart was killed inside the art gallery Jan. 16, according to an arrest warrant. Investigators say she logged off of her computer at 4:52 p.m. and was getting ready to close the store at 5 p.m.

Detectives found that Wishart usually set the alarm at the close of every workday, as evidenced by the alarm company’s opening and closing records. The alarm was reportedly not set Jan. 16.

Her body was found after friends became worried that she had not been seen for several days.

Her neck and throat, according to a probable-cause affidavit, sustained “multiple incised wounds.”

Police say Murphy removed Wishart’s shoes, then placed them in an “upright position adjacent to the body”

Crime scene technicians found blood inside one of Wishart’s shoes and on a magazine near her corpse.

Technicians also found skin tissue on the carpet beneath her. The blood and skin samples found at the crime scene were sent to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement’s lab in Tampa.

In the summer of 2004, a lab ran a DNA sample collected at the gallery through its computer database. It matched Murphy, who was in the database because of a previous burglary arrest.

Sarasota Police detectives found Murphy at the Harris County, Texas, jail in Houston, serving a one-year sentence for that burglary charge.

Prosecutors initially sought the glary charge.

Prosecutors initially sought the death penalty against Murphy, but later changed their minds.

In 2006, a court deemed Murphy incompetent for trial and sent him to a state mental hospital in Chattahoochee to see if his mental capacity could be restored.

in October 2007, Circuit Judge Deno Economou found Murphy mentally fit for trial.

In October 2008, prosecutors announced they would not seek the death penalty. Schlemmer said that’s because four doctors have told the court they have determined Murphy to be insane.

Under the law, the state cannot seek death against a person who is not deemed sane, Schlemmer said. Assistant State Attorney Lon Arend is handling the case. He could not be reached for comment Sunday.

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