A Kenai jury found Justin Starkweather guilty on all counts Friday in the 2002 sexual assault and attempted murder of a 46-year-old woman in her home near West Poppy Lane.
Starkweather, 23, stared straight ahead from the defense table where he was seated as Superior Court Judge Charles Cranston read the jury's verdicts, finding Starkweather guilty of first-degree sexual assault, first-degree attempted murder, first-degree assault, first-degree burglary and fourth-degree theft.
Courtney Starkweather, the defendant's mother who attended the court proceedings daily since jury selection began in mid-September, trembled visibly as the verdicts were read, and collapsed in tears at the end of Friday's proceedings.
Cranston set sentencing for 9 a.m. on Feb. 7, 2005. Starkweather faces up to 159 years in prison.
June Stein, who was prosecuting her first major felony case after being named Kenai District Attorney in September, said, "It's wonderful. The jury did a good job."
Anchorage defense attorney Cynthia Strout said the verdict would be appealed, but declined to comment further.
The jury deliberated for less than three hours on Thursday evening, reaching a verdict, which Cranston ordered sealed until Friday morning when it was opened in courtroom C of the Kenai Courthouse.
During the course of the trial, the jurors learned that an attacker broke through three doors in Mary Perna's home to get to her in her bedroom, apparently beat her and stomped on her face repeatedly until nearly every facial 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.
Investigators found footprints in the snow leading back and forth between the victim's house and that of Starkweather across the street.
Bloody clothing of Starkweather's was found in a garbage bag on a pickup parked in Starkweather's driveway. A pair of Nike shoes with a sole pattern matching that of some of the footprints was also found.
A second pair of shoes Lugz boots with a sole pattern matching other footprints, was found in a crawl space beneath the Starkweather home.
Perna's jewelry box was found under Starkweather's bed.
The defense had contended that a friend of Starkweather's, Melissa Larson, and a friend of hers, Fred Bahr Jr., borrowed Starkweather's clothing and shoes, committed the crime and framed him.
However, DNA mixture evidence found on a bloody glove failed to exclude the victim or Starkweather, according to Abirami Chidambaram, technical manager for the DNA section of the state's Scientific Crime Detection Laboratory in Anchorage.
Also, no DNA foreign to Starkweather or the victim was found in a mixture sample collected from a swab of the victim's breast.
As Starkweather's family and friends, and friends of the victim arrived at the Kenai Courthouse Friday morning, extra security officers were present, overseeing the metal detection scanning at the entrance.
Uniformed Alaska State Troopers and guards from the Wildwood Correctional Facility also lined the hallway leading to the courtroom; one trooper sergeant was seated at the prosecution table and two troopers were standing in the back of the courtroom. Several uniformed Kenai police officers also were present outside the courtroom.
After sentencing was scheduled, Starkweather was handcuffed by a Department of Corrections officer and led back to Wildwood Correctional Facility where he will be held without bail pending sentencing.
Outside, in the courthouse parking lot, two male jurors and a male alternate juror gathered to discuss the case.
Asking to not be identified due to the violent nature of the case, one of the jurors said, "It was the DNA evidence that cinched it for me."
Another said, "It was his clothing with her blood on it."
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