Jury selection began today in Clatsop County Circuit Court in the murder-by-neglect trial of two Astoria women.

Theresa Beverage and Nicole Harris are charged with murder by abuse in connection with the death of Sharon Wilks, whose body was found in February 2004 at the bottom of a ravine behind the apartment she shared with the two women.

Beverage, 31, and Harris, 34, who are also charged with first-degree criminal mistreatment, abuse of a corpse and hindering prosecution, are accused of neglecting Wilks while the invalid woman was in their care, then disposing of her body after she died in an effort to cover up her death. They face a minimum of 25 years in prison if convicted of the murder-by-abuse charges. Beverage is also charged with theft of identity for using another name to collect checks from Wilks' mother.

Wilks' body was discovered Feb. 28 strapped into an electric wheelchair at the bottom of a ravine behind the Hilltop Apartments in Niagara Avenue. In interviews with police, Beverage and Harris admitted that Wilks had died in her bed two weeks earlier, and that the two came up with a plan to conceal her death. Beverage described how she placed Wilks in her electric wheelchair and drove it out of the apartment and over the edge of a trash-strewn embankment just behind the complex.

Following a pre-trial bail hearing last fall featuring many of the same witnesses expected at the trial, Clatsop County Circuit Court Judge Phil Nelson ruled there was ample evidence that Beverage and Harris neglected Wilks to the point that her deteriorated physical condition helped cause the heart attack that killed her, and ordered that the two remain behind bars until their trial.

The hearing included testimony from Wilks' physician and the county medical examiner who examined her body. Both described what they saw as a shocking decline in Wilks' condition during the two months she was in Beverage's and Harris' care. Wilks was emaciated, dehydrated and covered with advanced bed sores, and her body contained few traces of the many medications prescribed to her for various ailments.

The prosecution claimed Beverage and Harris used Wilks as a meal ticket, stealing her medication to use or sell and continuing to collect money for rent and living expenses from Wilks' mother even after her death.

Defense attorneys Glenn Faber, representing Harris, and Randall Vogt, representing Beverage, contend that Wilks' health was already precarious because of years of drug abuse and challenge much of the evidence of her alleged decline while under the two women's care.

The trial is expected to last three weeks.

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