Jurors in Starkweather case see pictures documenting victim's injuries

Posted: Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Jurors continued listening to testimony Tuesday from investigators who collected evidence after a 46-year-old Soldotna woman was found severely beaten and sexually assaulted in her home near West Poppy Lane in 2002.

An across-the-street neighbor, Justin Starkweather, 23, is charged in the attack with first-degree attempted murder, first-degree sexual assault, first-degree assault, first-degree burglary and fourth-degree theft.

Testimony in the Kenai Superior Court trial started Monday. Alaska State Trooper John Williamson, who was in his first year of patrol as a trooper in 2002, recalled leaving his home to go to work Feb. 2, when dispatchers told him to go to Central Peninsula General Hospital to see the victim of a sexual assault being treated in the emergency room.

As District Attorney June Stein displayed photos of the victim taken by Williamson that day, the trooper described the victim's injuries to her face and shoulders, her back, hand, knee, legs and vaginal area and a bite mark on her breast.

During her opening statement last week, Stein told jurors nearly all the bones in the victim's face were broken, the lower portion of her face was separated and she was sexually assaulted.

While Stein was showing enlargements of the photos on a slide screen in Judge Charles Cranston's courtroom, Starkweather looked straight ahead in the direction of Williamson and looked down at the defense table. He did not look up at the screen.

Williamson testified that he was given the victim's clothing and personal effects by hospital personnel, and he filled out evidence tags and an AST form 12-210, used to keep track of evidence as it is gathered and processed.

Among the items of evidence then shown to jurors were a sheet from the hospital emergency room, empty coin tubes, jewelry, underwear, a blood-stained T-shirt, a white sock and a blanket.

Starkweather's attorney Cynthia Strout asked if Williamson had actually seen hospital employees remove the underwear from the victim.

"I did not," Williamson said.

"I was told by hospital personnel they removed it."

Later, during cross examination of the state witness, Strout asked if Williamson knew how the underwear was placed on the victim if she was found by a friend nude from the waist down.

"I have no idea," he said.

Strout also asked if he knew the significance of the coin tubes, the hospital bed sheet and the blanket, and Will-iamson said they possibly could yield trace evidence.

When Stein later showed him photos taken from the victim's bedroom, which was in disarray with clothing and other items strewn about the floor, she asked, "When you see this photo, could you see how items could have been scooped up (by medics) along with the victim?"

"I'm surprised there aren't a whole lot more," he said.

Strout asked if Williamson knew how medical staff members removed the victim's shirt, and he said he did not.

She instructed him to remove it from the evidence bag it was in and hold it up.

"What's the appearance of the front of the shirt?" Strout asked.

"It appears to have been cut off," Williamson said.

Referring to Williamson's photo of the victim's breast, Strout asked if one of the red marks could be a scar from breast augmentation surgery the victim reportedly had six months prior to the attack.

"I'm not trained to dispute that," Williamson said.

Another red mark appeared to be a bite mark.

Jurors also heard from other crime investigators Tuesday, including Jacque Kosto, who was a state trooper at the time, and Tom Bowman, who was a trooper lieutenant.

Bowman retired from being commander of the troopers' E Detachment in Soldotna on Sept. 1, but will return Oct. 1, under a post-retirement reemployment agreement with the state.

Bowman described the investigators' evidence-gathering procedure when working in the field and said, "There's a balance. When doing it in the field, it's possible to lose some trace evidence, but the items could give us a lead or (suggest) questions that could be asked."

Bowman's testimony is expected to continue today as the trial resumes at 8:45 a.m. at the Kenai Courthouse.

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