Jury Selection Starts Monday for Trial of Felon Accused of Killing Girlfriend

City News Service Pristine Villarreal

MURRIETA (CNS) – Jury selection is slated to begin Monday for the trial of a convicted felon accused of fatally shooting his girlfriend and then fleeing to Las Vegas, where he was apprehended holding his and the victim’s 2- year-old son.

Celestine John Stoot Jr., 44, of Lake Elsinore allegedly killed 43- year-old Natasha Denise Barlow of San Jacinto in July 2021.

Stoot is charged with first-degree murder, child cruelty, being a convicted felon in possession of a loaded firearm and sentence-enhancing gun and great bodily injury allegations.

On Thursday, Riverside County Superior Court Judge Timothy Freer ruled on pretrial motions regarding witnesses, evidence, scheduling and other matters. He ordered several panels of prospective jurors to assemble at the Southwest Justice Center in Murrieta Monday, at which point he’ll will begin screening them for qualifications and availability.

Opening statements in the trial are expected before the end of next week.

The defendant is being held without bail at the nearby Byrd Detention Center.

On the morning of July 4, 2021, Stoot got into a domestic dispute with Barlow, culminating in his allegedly gunning her down and snatching their son, also named Celestine, from her residence in the 17000 block of Hayes Avenue, according to sheriff’s Sgt. Deanna Pecoraro.

She said that patrol deputies were called to the location hours later and found the victim dead. A specific motive for the alleged attack was not disclosed.

Detectives immediately identified Stoot as the alleged assailant and suspected that he had fled with his son, but no one was certain where. A statewide Amber Alert was issued, asking the public to be on the lookout for the felon and child.

Authorities captured Stoot with his son in Las Vegas the following afternoon. The fugitive was taken into custody without incident, and the boy, who was unharmed, was immediately returned to Southern California, where he was placed in the care of loved ones.

According to court records, the defendant has prior convictions for gun assault, domestic violence and witness intimidation.

Copyright 2023, City News Service, Inc.

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