The trial of Night Stalker suspect Richard Ram-irez, accused of killing 14 people in adistic assaults that terrorized thousands of Southern Californians, began with the dismissal of 40 prospective jurors.

With protracted and often contentious courtroom prelimin-aries behind them, prosecutors and defense attorneys Thursday began a predicted six-month search for jurors to sit through a trial that could last into the next decade.As many as 2,000 people may have to be questioned to find 12 jurors and 12 alternates.

If convicted, Ramirez could be sentenced to death. He has remained jailed without bail since he was arrested Aug. 31, 1985.