By Gary Robertson
LOVINGSTON, Virginia (Reuters) - Opening arguments are set to begin Friday in the murder trial of a 48-year-old handyman accused of abducting and killing a Virginia girl whose body has never been found.
Randy Taylor has pleaded not guilty to three counts of murder and kidnapping in the case, which has riveted this rural area of western Virginia since the girl disappeared last summer.
A jury of seven women and five men was selected Thursday to hear the case.
The body of Alexis Murphy, 17, has never been found despite widespread searches by law enforcement agencies, community volunteers and her classmates, at Nelson County High School, where she was a star volleyball player and a popular senior.
Taylor, a handyman and laborer, was arrested about a week after the girl vanished, following a police search of his home and vehicle.
He has been charged in the case with one count of first-degree murder, one count of first-degree murder in the commission of an abduction and one count of abduction with intent to defile.
Authorities say he was one of the last people to see Alexis Murphy alive. His image was picked up by a surveillance camera at a local gas station, about the same time the teenager was there.
At the Nelson County Circuit Court on Thursday, Taylor was clean shaven, wearing closely cropped hair and a button-down shirt and slacks.
Alexis Murphy's mother and father sat on the front row of a group of seats reserved for family members and friends.
After court adjourned, the girl's aunt said the family felt comfortable with the jury and was ready for the trial to begin.
"Now, we just want to get it started and it over with," Trina Murphy said.
Family members say the teenager vanished August 3, 2013, after leaving home to go shopping in preparation for her senior picture.
Her car was found three days later, abandoned in the parking lot of a movie theater in Charlottesville.
Authorities also say they have found her cell phone, but they have not disclosed where they found it or what information they might have gleaned from it.
Posters and fliers featuring the teen's photograph and the word "Missing" have been attached to trees and windows and hung in buildings throughout this close-knit mountainous region.
(Editing by Sharon Bernstein and Ken Wills)