Victim testifies in assault trial

Posted: Sunday, October 03, 2004

Jurors in the Justin Starkweather trial in Kenai Superior Court saw the victim for the first time Friday as she was called to the witness stand and she identified her jewelry box, which was found under the defendant's bed the day after she was brutally attacked in 2002.

Starkweather, 23, 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 sexual attack on the 46-year-old woman in her home near West Poppy Lane.

When the trial began Sept. 17, jurors were shown a photo of the woman as she appeared before being attacked.

The picture was of a woman, younger looking than her age, with long, straight blonde hair and a peaceful look in her smiling eyes.

As she entered Judge Charles Cranston's courtroom Friday with about 10 family members and friends of the defendant on one side and a handful of her supporters on the other, little resemblance remained of the woman whose picture the jurors had seen.

In the early morning hours of Feb. 2, 2002, her attacker broke through three doors in her home to get to the victim in her bedroom, apparently beat her and stomped on her face repeatedly until nearly every bone was broken, sexually assaulted her and left her lying on her back in a pool of blood with a chest of drawers lying across her.

At around noon that day, a friend of the victim's found her near death, and she was rushed to the hospital in Soldotna and then flown to Alaska Regional Hospital in Anchorage for emergency treatment.

Doctors sutured numerous cuts, puncture wounds and lacerations and later performed plastic surgery to repair the damage savagely done to her. She remained on life support for several weeks.

As she walked up to the witness stand Friday, dressed in a blue-and-white striped shirt, black vest and matching black slacks, she choked back her emotions and told the court her name was Mary Anna Perna, the surname new since marrying the friend who had found her after the attack.

"Did you live in a house on Birdsong?" asked District Attorney June Stein.

"Yes," Perna relied.

"Alone?" asked Stein.

Again Perna replied affirmatively, nearly breaking down.

"And you worked at the DMV?"

"Yes," she said, choking back tears.

Division of Motor Vehicles Director Duane Bannock was one of Perna's supporters seated in the courtroom gallery.

After the initial questions, Perna, whose face is now scarred across her right eye and along its side, regained her composure as she recalled the setting in the home where the attack took place.

She said she was not one to leave the lights on at night, relying instead on a few small night lights in the living room, bathroom and sun room.

She had no guns, but kept a steel baseball bat behind her bedroom door -- just in case.

She recognized the eight-drawer jewelry cabinet referred to numerous times in court as the cabinet found lying across her the day she was found, and she recognized the jewelry box the defendant handed over to investigators the day they questioned him about the assault of the woman who lived across the street from the Starkweather home.

Starkweather has contended since that day that a friend of his -- Melissa Larson -- gave him the jewelry box the night before, asking him to hold it for her. Larson has denied the allegation.

Stein continued questioning Perna, asking what she remembered after the Feb. 2 attack.

"I was in Alaska Regional Hospital in March. I woke up and there were people in the room. I was in bed and they weren't, so I figured something happened to me," she said.

Perna has lost all memory of the attack and of anything that transpired between October 2001 when she took a trip Outside and the day she awoke from a coma in the Anchorage hospital.

Stein showed her an evidence envelope containing items that had been in her jewelry box.

She recognized some porcupine quills she said she used to make earrings; the military medals were her father's; and she smiled as she saw her collection of Fur Rondy commemorative buttons.

"It's been a long time since you saw those?" asked Stein rhetorically.

Perna also said she remembered having $60 in $2 bills in the jewelry box. They were never found.

Starkweather, who sat motionless at the defense table during the 11 minutes Perna was on the witness stand, watched her without showing any emotion as she walked out to the waiting arms of her husband, John.

Among other witnesses testifying Friday was Bill Gifford, an Alaska State Trooper assault and homicide special investigator who is considered an expert in crime scene reconstruction.

From blood stain evidence collected in the victim's bedroom, Gifford told jurors it appeared she was assaulted on her bed, on the floor at the foot of her bed, on the floor alongside her bed, and again alongside her bed after the jewelry chest had been moved.

From blood spatter patterns, Gifford said he determined "the assault took place over a considerable period of time."

Blood stains found on the pant leg of blue jeans found in a garbage bag in the back of a pickup parked in the Starkweather driveway resembled stains Gifford said he has seen before in a stomping death case.

Testimony continues in the case at 8:45 a.m. Monday when defense attorney Cynthia Strout will begin cross examining Gifford.

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