Starkweather attorney grills troopers, criminalist about use of trace evidence

Posted: Thursday, September 23, 2004

The defense attorney for Justin Starkweather, the 23-year-old man accused of sexually assaulting a woman in her home near West Poppy Lane in 2002, grilled state's witnesses in Kenai Superior Court on Wednesday about evidence gathering and handling procedures.

Starkweather is on trial for first-degree attempted murder, first-degree sexual assault, first-degree assault, first-degree burglary and fourth-degree theft in connection with the attack.

Questioning one of the Alaska State Troopers who investigated the scene of the crime, attorney Cynthia Strout focused her attention on the logging of bloody clothing found in a garbage bag outside the defendant's home, about vehicle tire track evidence at the scene and about a spot of blood found in snow on a pickup truck parked in the defendant's driveway.

Strout questioned the decision of trooper Capt. Tom Bowman to remove clothing from the garbage bag while in the driveway outside Starkweather's home, rather than taking the entire bag full of items to trooper E Detachment headquarters about six miles away in order to preserve any trace evidence that might fall off the clothing.

"I don't believe any trace evidence was lost," said Bowman, who retired from being commander of the Soldotna detachment Sept. 1 but will return Oct. 1, under a post-retirement reemployment agreement with the state.

Later Wednesday, a state crime lab criminalist defined trace evidence for the jury as hairs and fibers and any blood, urine or semen deposits found at the scene of a crime, which are limited in quantity or size.

Strout asked if Bowman knew if any documentation was made of tire tracks at the scene.

"No, actually the first officers on the scene would make observations," Bowman said.

Strout then asked if any castings were made of the tire tracks.

"I've never had a successful cast made from snow," he said.

"It works well in dirt and mud, but I've not had success in snow."

"The crime lab was coming, and they certainly would know how?" asked Strout.

"Correct," Bowman said.

The defense attorney also quizzed Bowman about the potential source of a single spot of blood found on the truck bed rail of a pickup parked in Starkweather's driveway.

The truck had several snow-covered black plastic bags piled on back and two black plastic bags that were not covered with snow. The bags contained items of bloody clothing belonging to the defendant.

"There had to be some source of that blood from some source ... a thing or a person?" asked Strout.

"Obviously," said Bowman.

"If you rule out the bag as the source, we can assume it was from some other source?" asked Strout.

"If you want to make that assumption," said Bowman.

Following Bowman's testimony, which carried over from Tuesday, District Attorney June Stein called criminalist Kristin Denning to the witness stand.

Denning, who said she is the first person in the state crime lab to look at evidence, gathers such items as hair, semen and blood samples and forwards them on to other analysts for further examination.

She said she looked at a shirt taken from the victim; tennis shoes with blood stains on them; a pair of white, green-trimmed men's gym shorts that tested positive for the presence of semen but not spermatozoa cells; a pair of Lugz brand shoes; a back scratcher believed to have been used in the sexual assault; and numerous blood-stained pieces of carpet removed from the victim's bedroom.

She said fingernail swabs and swabs from a bite mark on the victim's breast were examined by another section of the crime lab.

During her cross examination of the crime lab expert, Strout asked if investigating officers usually tell her what to test.

"They can, and as an analyst, I also suggest other testing," Denning said.

"Did anyone ask you to test a sweatshirt ... a blue long-sleeved shirt ... a T-shirt with a porcupine quill stuck in it ... a knit hat?" asked Strout.

"I don't recall," Denning said.

When asked about what she termed the sexual assault kit of the victim, Denning said she found no evidence of sperm or semen in the kit.

Strout also asked if Denning were ever asked to go to the crime scene to examine it, and she said she was not.

Testimony from state's witnesses is scheduled to resume today at 8:45 in Judge Charles Cranston's courtroom.

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