Starkweather defense questions trooper's handling of crime evidence

Posted: Wednesday, September 29, 2004

A pair of gloves and a lack of fingerprint evidence drew much attention Tuesday from the defense attorney in the trial of Justin Starkweather, the 23-year-old man accused of breaking into a woman's house in 2002 and brutally attacking her.

The Alaska State Trooper in charge of investigating the crime scene near West Poppy Lane told a jury in Kenai Superior Court that a pair of gloves was among blood-stained clothing found in a garbage bag outside the suspect's home across the street.

"Isn't it true, you found gloves in the garbage and decided Starkweather had gloves on so there was no need to fingerprint?" asked Anchorage attorney Cynthia Strout.

"We fingerprinted some things in the house," said trooper James Truesdell in response, during cross examination by the defense attorney.

Starkweather is charged with first-degree attempted murder, first-degree sexual assault, first-degree assault, first-degree burglary and fourth-degree theft in connection with the attack on the 46-year-old woman.

Strout rattled off a series of rapid-fire questions asking Truesdell if there was any reason for not seizing a wallet, a checkbook and a purse found lying on the floor of the victim's bedroom, where the woman also was found, lying in her own blood with nearly every bone in her face broken and bleeding from her vaginal area.

"Why not collect the wallet from the floor?" Strout asked.

"Someone looked through that wallet?

"Doesn't that suggest a motive?" she asked.

Truesdell refused to speculate as to a motive for the crime.

Strout also asked why no fingerprints were requested to be taken by the state crime lab from a piece of a $20 bill found in the victim's home.

The trooper said investigators are selective about what is sent to the crime lab, and that they prioritize their requests in order to avoid burying the state's sole crime lab.

"At a certain point, we have to decide what to fingerprint," he said.

During questioning by District Attorney June Stein, Truesdell, who was in his second month as an investigator with troopers when the crime was committed, told the jury of the many items that were collected as evidence at the home of the victim and at Starkweather's home across the street.

In a garbage can in the Starkweather garage, troopers found a pair of gym shorts with blood on them, which the defendant told investigators were his.

In the crawl space under the Starkweather house, investigators found a pair of Lugz brand shoes with the same heal pattern as shoes that left bloody tracks in the victim's home and in the snow between the two houses.

In a garbage bag on a truck in the Starkweather driveway, investigators found blood-stained clothing including a black long-sleeved shirt, blue jeans, Nike shoes, a pair of white socks, the gloves, a black stocking cap, flannel pajama bottoms and a black sweatshirt, according to Truesdell.

While interviewing Starkweather the day the victim was found, he showed investigators a jewelry box belonging to the victim that he had under his bed. He told them his friend, Melissa Larson, had given the box to him to hold for her the previous night.

Truesdell also listed for the jury a number of items of evidence seized at the victim's house, including a piece of linoleum with a bloody footprint on it, pieces of blood-soaked carpet from where the victim was found lying on her back, and numerous items he asked the lab to fingerprint.

Among the items sent to the crime lab in Anchorage for fingerprinting were the jewelry box, a jewelry armoire found empty and lying across the victim, a nylon briefcase-style bag the jewelry box was in, the garbage bag containing the bloody clothing and the Lugz shoes found under the Starkweather house.

Truesdell showed the jury a comforter with a large, bloody footprint on it that was found in the victim's bedroom and a back scratcher, believed to have been used in the sexual attack.

Those items also were sent to the lab as evidence, Truesdell said.

The trooper listed numerous other evidentiary items sent to the lab, including a purple washcloth and towel found in the victim's residence and a pair of panties found on the floor of her bathroom.

Truesdell said he interviewed Larson a number of times during the investigation and attempted to find Fred Bahr Jr., a friend she said she was with the night of the crime.

The defense has alleged that Larson and Bahr were involved in the attack. Starkweather is innocent, according to Strout.

Larson testified Monday that she never gave the jewelry box to Starkweather, and, in fact, never saw the jewelry box before.

Truesdell said troopers have been unsuccessful in attempts to locate Bahr for questioning.

Strout is scheduled to resume cross examining Truesdell today and the state plans to call DNA criminalists to the witness stand. The trial resumes in Judge Charles Cranston's courtroom at 8:45 a.m.

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