Investigator defends evidence

Posted: Thursday, September 30, 2004

The lead investigator in the 2002 sexual assault of a woman in her home near West Poppy Lane, defended his evidence-gathering practices during his second day of testifying in the jury trial of Justin Starkweather, the 23-year-old man accused of the attack.

Alaska State Trooper James Truesdell told the jury that the state's crime lab could not find any fingerprints in the victim's home, not even the victim's.

He said he told the Kenai Grand Jury the absence of fingerprints was probably because a pair of gloves was found among bloody clothing items in a garbage bag outside the suspect's house across the street.

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.

The trial, which began in Kenai Superior Court with opening statements Sept. 17, is expected to continue into next week.

On Tuesday, defense attorney Cynthia Strout alleged that because investigators found the gloves, they decided there was no need to look for fingerprints.

District Attorney June Stein questioned Truesdell about the gloves and a lack of fingerprints on Wednesday, saying, "The lack of fingerprints led to the gloves, not the other way around, right?"

"That's correct," Truesdell said.

During questioning on Tuesday, Strout also indicated that stealing money and jewelry might have been a motive for the home invasion.

Truesdell refused to speculate as to a motive, and on Wednesday, told the jury that other than a jewelry box of the victim's found under Starkweather's bed, nothing else was reported missing from the victim's home.

During her cross examination of the state's witness, Strout also asked why Truesdell had not taken a baseball bat found leaning against the wall behind the door in the victim's bedroom as evidence.

On Wednesday, Stein asked, "Did you look at the baseball bat?"

"I did," said Truesdell.

"What did you see?"

"A lot of dust. It appeared it hadn't been moved in a long, long time," Truesdell said.

Truesdell, who told the jury Tuesday that investigators are selective as to what they send to the crime lab, so as not to overburden the state's sole lab, read from a three-page list all the items he did send, asking for trace evidence, latent fingerprints and DNA evidence.

DNA experts from the lab are expected to testify today.

Melissa Larson, a friend of Starkweather's at the time the crime took place, was recalled as a witness Wednesday.

She testified earlier that Starkweather called her numerous times the night of the crime saying he wanted her to come over. She said he sounded frantic.

The defense has accused her of being involved in the crime with another friend, Fred Bahr Jr., and Starkweather has said Larson gave him the victim's jewelry box, asking him to hold it for her. She denied giving him the box.

Larson was questioned Wed-nesday to determine whether she remembered the number of a cell phone she said she used the night of the attack.

She said she did not remember the number, and Truesdell then testified that she told him what it was during his investigation in 2002.

He said he then obtained a search warrant to get the phone records for that phone from AT&T Wireless and found six phone calls were made between that number and the number of the defendant.

Beginning with one call at 8:17 Feb. 1, subsequent calls were made at 12:31 a.m., Feb. 2; 1:32 a.m. Feb. 2; 3:38 a.m. Feb. 2; 8:45 p.m. Feb. 2; and 10:13 p.m. Feb. 2.

The attack is believed to have occurred sometime in the early morning hours of Feb. 2.

Jurors are scheduled to return to Judge Charles Cranston's courtroom at 9 a.m. today.

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