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Teens' murder trial set to start

LAWRENCEVILLE - A murder trial for two Buford teens accused of strangling their adoptive mother two years ago is expected to start next week.

Prosecutors say Brenda and Catherine O'Connell, both 17 years old, murdered 57-year-old Muriel O'Connell in August 2006 when both suspects were 15. Both will be tried as adults.

The state elected not to seek the death penalty, but both teens face life in prison if convicted, said Dan Mayfield, deputy chief assistant district attorney. Jury selection should commence Monday.

"If convicted of murder, the law requires them to be sentenced to life," Mayfield said. "(Though) parole would be possible."

Muriel O'Connell adopted both girls, who are from Guatemala, while they were in their early teens.

On the night of Aug. 6, the girls ran to a neighbor's house to report there had been a fight and their mother was dead, according to police at the time.

Police never shed light on a motive for Muriel O'Connell's death; however, a prosecutor later said the slain woman was found with a knife in her hand.

Both teens were indicted two years ago on counts of felony murder, murder and aggravated assault. Before the indictment, the girls were charged with misdemeanors in Gwinnett Juvenile Court.

The teens were transferred from a youth detention center when they turned 17 in April this year. They've awaited trial at the Gwinnett County Jail since then, said Sheriff's Department spokeswoman Stacey Bourbonnais.

Prosecutors expect the trial to last two or three weeks. Superior Court Judge Tom Davis will preside.