RENO -- A Nevada man accused of killing a former Mendocino resident and sexually assaulting her and two other women last year in Reno will face trial on the charges, a judge ruled Thursday.
More than a dozen witnesses testified over two days in a preliminary hearing for James Biela, a Sparks construction worker accused of killing 19-year-old college student Brianna Denison, who grew up in Mendocino, and sexually assaulting two other women last year near the University of Nevada, Reno.
After the hearing, Justice of the Peace Patricia Lynch ruled there was sufficient evidence to bind Biela over for trial in state court on murder and kidnapping charges and three counts of sexual assault.
A forensic pathologist testified Thursday that a pair of pink, thong underwear found with Denison's body may have been used to strangle her.
Dr. Ellen Clark, Washoe County medical examiner, said abrasions and scrapes on Denison's neck were consistent with elastic bands on the panties -- one of two pair found intertwined with Denison's body last February in a brush-covered field in southeast Reno.
Biela, a former Marine who trained in martial arts, remains held without bail at the Washoe County jail in Reno. No date was immediately set for his arraignment in Washoe District Court.
Washoe County District Attorney Dick Gammick and prosecutor Elliott Sattler said no decision had been made on whether to seek the death penalty.
The two other assault victims testified Wednesday.
One identified Biela as the man who attacked her Oct. 22, 2007, in a parking garage next door to the campus police station.
The other said she never saw Biela's face, but she was able to partially describe the truck in which she was kidnapped and raped Dec. 16, 2007. Police said DNA evidence linked Biela to that attack.
Wearing red jail garments and a black, bulletproof vest, Biela, 27, remained emotionless during the hearing.
He kept his head down and stared at the defense table where he sat with his public defenders, Jay Slocum and Richard Davies.
Denison, a sophomore at Santa Barbara City College, was visiting Reno last winter when, after a night out with friends Jan. 20, she went to sleep on a couch at a rented home near UNR.
Her body was found Feb. 15 by Alberto Jimenez, who said he was drawn to two brightly colored socks as he was cutting across a vacant lot in the southeast Reno business district.
At first Jimenez said he thought he was looking at a mannequin, until he noticed teeth and a wound on the body's shoulder.
Investigators said Denison's body was left in a shallow ditch covered by a discarded Christmas tree.
Two pair of petite-size panties -- the pink pair and a black pair with "Pink Panther" emblems -- were found under her right knee.
Forensic experts said the pink panties contained DNA from Denison, the friend she had been staying with and her attacker.
The owner of the "Pink Panther" underwear has not been identified.
Early in their 10-month investigation, authorities described the suspect as a serial rapist who often kept the underwear of his victims.
Reno police Detective Adam Wygnanski testified Thursday that the break in the case came when Biela's girlfriend confided to a friend that she found a pair of thong underwear in the glove compartment of Biela's truck.