Starkweather trial on hold

Posted: Wednesday, October 06, 2004

Kenai Superior Court Judge Charles Cranston ordered a one-week break in the trial of Justin Starkweather to allow time for attorneys in the case to review additional records and prepare juror instructions.

The jury was excused until 8:45 a.m. Tuesday, after listening to testimony from an expert witness hired by the defense to criticize the Alaska State Trooper investigation into the 2002 sexual assault of a 46-year-old woman in her home near West Poppy Lane.

Although the state has not finished presenting its case in the trial, the defense witness, who was flown out from Virginia, was allowed to testify out of order so he could return back east for other commitments.

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.

The defense witness, Gregg McCrary, who identified himself as a self-employed consultant and retired FBI agent, said he was one of the FBI's experts in violent crime investigations and an instructor at the FBI Academy in Quantico, Va., before retiring nine years ago.

McCrary told the court he had reviewed all the police reports in the Starkweather case, plus the crime scene photos, forensic lab reports, the victim's medical reports and looked at the physical setting of the victim's and Starkweather's houses, prior to putting together his report on the crime investigation.

During direct questioning from Anchorage attorney Cynthia Strout, McCrary began his testimony by saying, "It's not (investigators') job to believe or disbelieve anybody. Our job is to find facts."

The defense has alleged that troopers were quick to believe Starkweather committed the crimes and, in so doing, missed evidence that might have pointed to Larson and Bahr.

"Did you form an opinion on the troopers' failure to recognize evidence at the crime scene?" Strout asked.

"Yes. Mr. Pippin did not process the primary crime scene -- the bedroom of the victim. It was not processed as thoroughly as it should have been," said McCrary about Alaska Scientific Crime Detection Laboratory investigator Turner Pippin.

Saying the bedroom was "the richest source of evidence," McCrary said Pippin should have been instructed to check the walls, light switches and dressers for fingerprints; should have collected as evidence small items including the victim's wallet; and should have used alternate light sources such as ultraviolet to detect trace evidence such as hairs, fibers and semen.

McCrary also said footprints found in the snow between the victim's house and Starkweather's across the street, were documented, but not as thoroughly as they should have been.

"For example, we have a Lugz shoe and a Nike. Each should have been documented on their own," McCrary said.

"Now, it's difficult to see exactly what happened," he said.

When asked by Strout what could have been done, McCrary said although troopers marked footprints in the snow going to the house with orange spray paint and those going away with green, they could have used numbers to indicate the Lugz prints and letters to indicate the Nikes.

He said the footprints could have been diagramed and investigators could have done castings of some of them in the snow.

"Casting is used to identify a specific shoe," he said.

"It could show a wear pattern to match a specific print to a specific shoe."

McCrary described a snow-print wax commonly used to do castings and said the procedure is "agent proof."

"Even the FBI can do it without screwing up," McCrary said.

He also questioned blood stain evidence collected by troopers and wondered out loud why no cleanup scene was found -- an area where the offender would have needed to clean blood off himself or herself.

McCrary said because the Nike shoes found by troopers in a garbage bag on a truck in the Starkweather driveway had the victim's blood on them, they clearly were at the scene, but because the laces did not have blood, they most likely were not worn with the blood-soaked jeans also found in the bag.

He suggested someone may have dipped them or dabbed them in the blood or walked around the scene in them before placing them in the garbage bag.

After stating that 30 $2 bills belonging to the victim were missing and troopers never found the remainder of a $20 bill, the bloody corner of which was found in her house, McCrary was asked by Strout if that could be evidence of a setup.

"Assume with me a scenario of someone setting up a person for a crime," Strout said.

"Would they take items of value and leave items of no value?" she asked.

"Yes," McCrary said, referring to trinkets of little monetary value found in the victim's jewelry box, which was found under Starkweather's bed.

The defendant has insisted that Melissa Larson gave him the jewelry box the night before he turned it over to troopers.

"I don't think Melissa Larson and Fred Bahr can be eliminated as suspects," McCrary said.

"If you have two sets of footprints, you may have two people."

He also listed inconsistencies in Larson's testimony as to her actions the night of the crime and inconsistencies between the two as to where they were that night.

During the state's cross examination of the expert witness, District Attorney June Stein asked McCrary how much he was paid to appear as a witness for the defense.

"I charged a $10,000 flat fee for this case," he said.

Quoting from a book he wrote in 2003, "The Unknown Darkness," Stein asked, "Do you agree with this statement? 'With a guilty client, the defense team's only hope is to attack the police and their investigation to muddy the waters.'"

Following an objection from Strout, McCrary said, "That could be true."

Stein asked if he were not dissuaded from his stated position that the crime lab's report showing DNA of the victim and Starkweather could not be excluded from a DNA mixture found on the victim's breast.

"Correct. There could be other explanations for that," he said.

He did not elaborate.

During further questioning by Strout, McCrary was asked if the issues being talked about related to the police or to the evidence.

"Strictly to the evidence," he said. "Was the crime scene properly evaluated?"

"The issue is what wasn't done?" Strout asked.

"Yes," he said.

"What was done was good quality?" she asked.

"Yes," he said.

Attorneys are scheduled to continue working on the case this week and the state is to call additional witnesses Tuesday. Jurors were told the case may be given to them for deliberations by Oct. 15 or earlier.

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