Inmate: Starkweather confessed

Posted: Thursday, October 14, 2004

A man who was jailed in a Wildwood Pretrial Facility cell next to Justin Starkweather told a Kenai Superior Court jury Wednesday that Starkweather confessed to committing the 2002 sexual assault of a 46-year-old woman in her home near West Poppy Lane.

"He said, 'I did it. I'm screwed. I'm gonna plead guilty. I'm gonna kill myself,'" convicted robber Jeremy Cooper said Starkweather told him in March 2002, when the inmates were incarcerated in cells next to each other in the segregation unit of the Wildwood jail.

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.

Cooper explained that inmates could stand on their toilets and speak to one another through ventilation vents near the ceiling of the cells.

"He said Melissa Larson was involved also and she was going to roll on him," Cooper testified.

The defense has contended that 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. According to the defense, Starkweather is innocent.

Information about the alleged confession was brought to the Kenai District Attorney's attention after Wildwood security Sgt. Robert Hibpshman reported a tape-recorded phone conversation between Cooper and his wife mentioning the defendant's comments.

During her cross examination of Cooper, defense attorney Cynthia Strout related excerpts from the phone conversation.

"You were talking about the Starkweather case after your wife told you about an article in the newspaper and you said, 'Why is everyone so concerned about Justin Starkweather and not about me?'" Strout said.

"You thought you could get some attention?" she asked.

"Wrong," Cooper said.

"You brought up the Justin Starkweather case and thought it would be gold for you?" the attorney asked, suggesting Cooper might be able to get a reduced sentence in exchange for cooperating with the state's case against Starkweather.

"Wrong," Cooper said again.

Cooper, 21, is awaiting sentencing after being convicted of first-degree robbery in April this year. He faces a possible 17 years in prison for that conviction, for violation of parole and for other crimes.

When District Attorney June Stein questioned Cooper following Strout's query, Stein asked, "Why are you testifying here?"

"'Cause it's the right thing to do," he said.

Strout asked, "You were convicted of crimes of dishonesty when you were 14 and then 16, and this year, you were convicted of robbery another crime of dishonesty?"

"Yes," Cooper said.

The state also called Cooper's wife, Darcy, to testify about the phone conversation the two had.

Darcy Cooper, 18, testified she did not know her husband could possibly receive a reduced sentence in exchange for testifying against Starkweather.

As Jeremy Cooper said earlier, she told Stein she did not learn of such a possible arrangement until being interviewed by Strout a week ago.

"What was your reaction when you found out the police were interested in talking to you?" asked Stein.

"Not good," Darcy Cooper said.

"I don't want to be involved in this," she said.

"Didn't you tell me Jeremy hoped he would get a deal?" Strout asked during cross examination.

"It was my hope," Darcy Cooper said.

When Stein later asked if Darcy Cooper were aware that no deal had been made in exchange for her husband's or her testimony, she answered affirmatively.

The defense called a probation officer and a former probation officer to testify about the character of Jeremy Cooper.

Joe Murphy, who once supervised Cooper when he was on parole, said Cooper has lied to him in the past.

David Means, who was a probation officer for Cooper when he was a juvenile, said Cooper was "not always forthcoming with the truth."

Because of witness scheduling, defense witnesses have been called out of order, during the state's presentation of its case. The state is expected to wind up its case against Starkweather today.

Judge Charles Cranston told jurors Wednesday that he and the attorneys expect the case to be argued and turned over to them for deliberations today.

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