Questioning focuses on multiple footprints in Starkweather trial

Posted: Tuesday, October 05, 2004

The defense attorney in the Justin Starkweather trial in Kenai Superior Court on Monday attacked the conclusion of an assault investigator that one person acted alone to commit the 2002 beating and sexual assault of a 46-year-old woman in her home near West Poppy Lane.

Bill Gifford, an Alaska State Trooper assault and homicide special investigator who is considered an expert in crime scene reconstruction, had testified Friday that tracks leading to and from the victim's house that crossed each other, footprints inside the house and no evidence of someone standing around outside the house led him to believe there were not two people involved in the attack.

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 brutal attack on Mary Perna that left her lying in a pool of blood on her back in her bedroom, with nearly every bone in her face broken.

The defense has contended that a friend of Starkweather's, Melissa Larson, and a friend of hers, Freddie Bahr Jr., borrowed Starkweather's shoes and other clothing, committed the burglary and assault and framed Starkweather with the crime.

"Three distinct footprints at (the victim's) back door could indicate there were people standing around?" asked Anchorage attorney Cynthia Strout.

"Not necessarily," said Gifford.

"It could be someone made (the third) print earlier," he said.

"Do you agree it would have been helpful to have had documentation showing the relationship of the two sets of footprints to each other?" asked Strout.

"There was photographic documentation of the footprints showing them next to each other and atop one another," Gifford said.

"Your conclusion was it was more likely one person going back and forth. You can't rule out two people?" the attorney asked.

"Not from what's there," Gifford said.

"If you were incorrect about the evidence of people standing at the back door, and incorrect about people walking side by side (and) if you were incorrect about the bloody shoe print inside the house not being from a bloody sock, you could be incorrect about your conclusion that it was one person going back and forth?" Strout asked.

Gifford said he was not incorrect about nobody standing around and said the photos taken by other investigators showed the tracks in the snow crossing each other.

He stood by the conclusion he reached while reconstructing the crime scene.

Strout also asked Gifford if any evidence was found of a scene where the attacker cleaned blood off himself or herself after the attack.

"It could have been right there at the house," Gifford said.

Gifford also testified extensively last week about blood stain evidence collected at the crime scene, indicating the victim may have been stomped repeatedly in the face by her attacker.

During cross examination on Monday, Strout and her investigator held up the bloodied jeans and Nike shoes found in a garbage bag on a truck parked in the Starkweather driveway and asked Gifford how it was possible blood from the jeans did not transfer onto the white shoelaces.

Gifford said it was possible if the blood initially was only on the outside of the pant leg and soaked through later after the person took off the pants, or if the pant leg covered the shoe as the stomping was taking place.

He also suggested the blood may have washed off the shoelace as the person walked through snow outside.

Questioning investigators' decisions not to collect as evidence a purse, checkbook and wallet found lying on the floor of the victim's bedroom, Strout asked, "Can you think of any reason they were not collected?"

"Without knowing all the facts ..." Gifford began, "I probably would have collected them."

When District Attorney June Stein again questioned Gifford after he was cross examined by Strout, Stein said, "You discussed with Miss Strout about your opinion being that one person was involved. Has your opinion changed?"

"No," Gifford said.

Testimony is scheduled to resume in Judge Charles Cranston's courtroom at 8:45 a.m. today.

Due to unusual scheduling circumstances, an expert witness hired by the defense is slated to testify today, before the state finishes presenting its evidence.

Attorneys in the case also have discussed possibly taking a one- or two-day break in the proceedings while legal issues are hammered out. That is expected to be decided today.

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