Key witness expected to testifu in Starkweather trial

Gifford defends investigation

Posted: Wednesday, October 13, 2004

Jurors in the Justin Starkweather trial are expected to hear testimony today that the man accused of sexually attacking a 46-year-old woman in her home in 2002 confessed to the crime.

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.

As the jury trial resumed Tuesday in Kenai Superior Court after a one-week break while attorneys researched related records, District Attorney June Stein indicated plans to call Jeremy Cooper, a Wildwood Pretrial Facility inmate, as a witness.

Cooper, a convicted armed robber, reportedly was overheard telling his wife that Starkweather had confessed.

"It's important to show this witness has a set pattern of dishonesty," said defense attorney Cynthia Strout, who was urging the court to allow her to tell of Cooper's criminal history, dating back to when he was 14 and 15 years old.

Generally juvenile criminal records are not admitted as evidence in Alaska courts.

"This man has a lengthy and set predisposition to lie," Strout told Judge Charles Cranston, who will rule on the admissibility today.

"He's going to say my client confessed," Strout said.

"Allowing the jury to know he has a set history of dishonesty is important to a fair deter-mination in this case," she said.

Stein told the court she plans to call Alaska State Trooper James Hibpschman to the witness stand. Stein said Hibpschman heard the conversation between Cooper and his wife.

Before debating the Cooper matter, Stein and Strout again questioned trooper investigator Bill Gifford, who was called by the state to rebut testimony presented by a defense expert witness.

On Oct. 5, Gregg McCrary criticized troopers' work in investigating the 2002 crime scene.

McCrary, who identified himself as a self-employed consultant and retired FBI agent, questioned why investigators did not make castings of footprints found in the snow leading back and forth between Perna's house and Starkweather's house across the street near West Poppy Lane.

McCrary suggested that snow wax could have been used to facilitate making the castings to help determine what was going on the night Perna was attacked.

Gifford said snow wax "has a lot of drawbacks."

He said the material, actually used to wax snow skis, comes in an aerosol can, and when the can is new, the wax sprays well, but if the can is older, the wax spurts and can actually damage the footprint to be cast.

Gifford said it was his opinion that the footprints were sufficiently documented, without casting.

Strout argued that casting the footprints would have been helpful in showing the tracks' relationship to each other.

"Investigators said the tracks from the Lugz boots and the Nike shoes paralleled each other," Strout said.

"They were also on top of each other," Gifford said.

"Did you find any documentation showing that?" Strout asked.

"I don't know that I looked for it," Gifford said.

Investigators testified earlier in the trial that a pair of Nike shoes with the victim's blood on them was found in a garbage bag in the back of a pickup parked in the Starkweather driveway, and a pair of Lugz boots, matching the pattern of footprints in the snow was found in the crawl space under the defendant's home.

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.

McCrary also testified that the perpetrator of the crime likely would have had a large amount of the victim's blood on himself or herself, but Gifford said that was not likely.

In his opinion, he said, the victim was stomped, and blood splatter in stomping crimes goes outward, not upward.

"The perpetrator quite possibly had very little blood on them," Gifford said.

McCrary had said crime scene evidence lacked the discovery of a location where the attacker cleaned blood off himself or herself.

A private investigator working for the defense, Andrew Klamser, told the jury Tuesday he had interviewed Fred Bahr and Melissa Larson during his investigation of the crime.

Klamser said he actually had gone to Wildwood Pretrial where Bahr was incarcerated for a parole violation in hopes of seizing shoes Bahr owned.

The investigator learned, however, that Bahr had thrown away a pair of shoes when new ones he ordered by mail order arrived. Inmates are restricted to having no more than three pairs of shoes in their possession.

Bahr reportedly told Klam-ser he only wears Skechers and Lugz shoes, because he has unusually wide feet.

Larson already has told the jury she had no involvement in the attack on Perna. Bahr re-portedly has disappeared since being released from jail. Investigators have not been able to find him for questioning.

The trial is scheduled to resume at 8:45 a.m. today.

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