Jury picked in Starkweather trial

Posted: Friday, September 17, 2004


  Justin Starkweather

Justin Starkweather

A jury of four women and 11 men is scheduled to hear opening statements today in the Kenai Superior Court trial of Justin Starkweather, who is charged with attempting to murder a Soldotna woman in February 2002.

Three of the jurors are alternates. Their names will be disclosed and they will be dismissed before verdict deliberations begin at the end of the trial.

Jury selection began Sept. 9, and was completed Thursday afternoon in Judge Charles Cranston's courtroom where Kenai District Attorney June Stein and Anchorage defense attorney Cynthia Strout worked to find jurors who had not already formed opinions about the well-publicized Kenai Peninsula assault case.

In 2002, Starkweather, now 23, 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 searched Starkweather's residence and found a pair of gym shorts with blood on them that Starkweather admits were his, according to McConnell.

They 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.

In charging documents, police investigators said Starkweather claims he is innocent and was set up by the female friend and a friend of hers.

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.

"Our defense is that Justin did not commit this crime and that at least two other people were involved," Strout said on Thursday.

The trial was originally scheduled to last three weeks.

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