Trial in brutal assault to start

Posted: Tuesday, September 07, 2004

The trial of a man charged with attempting to murder a Soldotna woman in February 2002, is set to get under way in Superior Court in Kenai this week.

Justin A. Starkweather, 23, has been in custody at Wildwood Pretrial Facility for more than two years, charged with multiple felony crimes in the case.

Status hearings without a jury present are slated for today and Wednesday, with jury selection set to begin Thursday.

In 2002, Starkweather was charged with first-degree attempted murder, first-degree sexual assault, first-degree assault, first-degree burglary and fourth-degree theft in connection with an attack on a 46-year-old Soldotna woman in her home in the vicinity of West Poppy Lane.

The woman was found severely beaten with nearly all her facial bones broken, her hip and jaw bones broken and gouges taken out of her face. She had been sexually assaulted with a back scratcher, according to Dwayne McCon-nell, Kenai district attorney at the time.

Alaska State Troopers investigated and found several sets of footprints outside the woman's house. One set stopped on a snow berm above the victim's bedroom window, a set was found leading to the back door of a house across the street, where Starkweather lived, and another led from the victim's house to a side road. The defense has argued that the prints have not been matched with any shoes.

Troopers also reportedly found a blood spot at the back door of Starkweather's residence and obtained a search warrant to search the home. They found a pair of gym shorts with blood on them that Starkweather admits were his, according to McCon-nell.

They also found other clothing and a pair of tennis shoes with blood on them in black garbage bags in a truck in front of the house and another pair of Starkweather's shoes wrapped in clothes in a crawl space under the garage.

Starkweather showed troopers a jewelry box he had that belonged to the victim and said it was given to him by a female friend the night before the crime took place. He also told troopers the friend had borrowed a pair of his shoes when she gave him the jewelry box, and those were the shoes found in the garbage bags.

"The defense surmised that the girl and a friend of hers are the culprits," McConnell said earlier.

The victim remained on life support for several weeks. She has not conclusively identified who her assailant was. At one point, she said the across-the-street neighbor did it, according to McConnell, but she later identified a person from her childhood and now she doesn't know who did it.

The trial, in Judge Charles K. Cranston's court, is expected to last three weeks.

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