Archive for Thursday, October 6, 2005

Mistrial in rape case

Expert testimony’ dispute leads judge to end trial

October 6, 2005

— The suspect charged with the December 2004 robbery of a Lansing gasoline station and rape of a clerk is back in Leavenworth County Jail, awaiting a new trial.

The trial for the 26-year-old Kansas City, Kan., man ended Tuesday afternoon when Leavenworth County District Judge Frederick Stewart declared a mistrial. A new trial is scheduled for 9 a.m. Nov. 14.

Stewart did not specify the grounds for mistrial, except that the defense attorney, Charles Lamb, had moved for a mistrial.

Lamb said he had moved for a mistrial because a witness for the state, Lawrence Police Detective M.T. Brown, had presented testimony on comparing images recorded by Wood Oil security cameras to photos of the suspect and his clothing "in a way as to cause the jury to believe it was expert testimony" when it was not.

The trial finally began Monday after months of continuations.

The suspect is charged with rape, aggravated robbery, kidnapping and aggravated intimidation of a victim in a Dec. 21 incident at Wood Oil, 109 4-H Road.

Lt. Ben Ontiveros of the Lansing Police Department is questioned on the witness stand during the trial of the man suspected in the December 2004 robbery and rape of a clerk at Wood Oil Co. A mistrial was declared, and a new trial set for Nov. 14.

Lt. Ben Ontiveros of the Lansing Police Department is questioned on the witness stand during the trial of the man suspected in the December 2004 robbery and rape of a clerk at Wood Oil Co. A mistrial was declared, and a new trial set for Nov. 14.

Leavenworth County prosecutor Pat Cahill opened the prosecution case on Monday with a chronology of the crime and a list of evidence including video from the station's security cameras and many items of the suspect's clothing. Cahill told the jury, "Once you've examined the evidence, you'll see a serious crime was committed" by the defendant.

Lamb countered that the state's evidence was circumstantial, depending most heavily on video from the security cameras at the station. Lamb said the video would, in fact, show his client was not guilty. Lamb added that while the Wood Oil clerk said the man who assaulted her had a gun, no gun had been recovered from the suspect, and no DNA evidence of the suspect turned up in an examination of the victim, which Lamb said should clear his client of the rape charge.

Four witnesses testified Monday. The first two had visited Wood Oil about the time of the crimes. Neither had seen the suspect, but the second witness, Catherine Smith, saw the victim, a clerk at the store, after the suspect had apparently fled. Smith said the clerk was "shaken" and sitting on the floor.

Lansing Police Lt. Tony Waterman then testified for about an hour. He had been the first officer on the scene. Waterman, who serves as evidence custodian for the department, wheeled in evidence on a cart that filled two file boxes and a laundry basket. The basket held clothes the suspect had in the vehicle he was driving when he was arrested two days after the robbery. Waterman described how he came to arrest the defendant after receiving a tip from a clerk at 7-Eleven, 501 N. Main St.

The suspect's girlfriend at the time of the incident, Monica Laquaglia, testified she recognized him as the robber on camera when she watched the video from the store.

The prosecution then called former Lansing Police Chief John Simmons, now chief of police in Fairway. Simmons testified he had shown the store video to Laquaglia and that she had immediately broken down upon watching the footage.

"She fell to the floor," he said.

Simmons said he asked Laquaglia to identify the man in the video, and she told him it was her boyfriend.

"She was very emotional, very upset," Simmons said.

Simmons said he then asked Laquaglia if her boyfriend had a handgun. She told him no, Simmons said, but that he did have a BB gun. Laquaglia said she did not know if he carried it regularly, Simmons said.

The trial reconvened Tuesday with testimony from the nurse who examined the victim after the crime. The nurse described the procedures she followed to collect possible evidence to identify the rapist. Next, two forensic biologists with the Kansas Bureau of Investigation testified that they found no DNA evidence to identify the perpetrator in samples collected from the victim, her clothes and from the suspect's clothes taken by Lansing Police.

The victim, the Wood Oil clerk, then testified. She described the events of the night of Dec. 21, 2004.

The robber was distracted, "jittery" and "antsy" when he entered the store, she said.

"He paced back and forth," and grabbed a candy bar and put it on the counter, she said. Then the man pulled a gun out of his pants and pointed it in her face, she said. He demanded money, and she put the cash box from below the register on the counter, she said.

Then the man told her to move around the front of the register, put a gun in her ribs and told her to walk to the back of the store.

They went to the storage room, where he told her to take off her clothes, and sexually assaulted her, she said.

Then, she said, "I thought I'd be killed" when the robber put a gun to her head and cocked it.

It was right after the gun cocked, the witness said, that the front door of the store opened, sounding the bell and shaking her attacker. She said he told her to look down and he left and closed the door. She said she stayed in the room because she didn't know if the man had left the store, and she thought he might kill someone else who had walked in the store if she were to walk out of the room.

Two customers, a man and a woman, soon found her in the room, she said.

Cahill asked the victim to watch a video, taken from the store's security cameras, projected on a screen so that all in the courtroom could see. He asked the witness to explain what was happening in various still frames and to identify the robber captured on video. She identified him as the suspect who was on trial.

"I remember the eyes," she said.

Laquaglia then testified again. She identified the suspect as the man in the video recorded by the Wood Oil cameras. She said she recognized the shirt seized by Lansing police, which appeared to be the same as the one in the video, as one she had bought for the suspect.

Lamb then questioned Laquaglia and asked if she recognized the suspect as the one in the store's video more from the clothes than the face. She said, "Yes."

Lansing Police Officer Robin Mock, Capt. Ben Ontiveros and Detective Scott Crawford each testified in the trial. They described their methods in investigating the case, including the collection of evidence from the car thought to be the one driven by the suspect the night of the crime, as well as from a search of the suspect's apartment in Kansas City, Kan.

Ontiveros said that when he showed the defendant the video from Wood Oil, the defendant said the clothes of the robber "looked exactly like his own," but that it wasn't him.

Brown then testified. He had produced for the Lansing police a Power Point presentation that compares different still frames taken by the Wood Oil cameras to show more clearly what happened. It included side-by-side comparisons of a still of the robber, who was wearing a black coat, and a photo of a similar coat seized from the suspect. Next, Brown showed a comparison of a still of the robber, taken by a camera behind a register, and a photo of the defendant.

After consulting with the attorneys and a brief recess, Judge Stewart declared a mistrial.

It is the policy of The Lansing Current not to identify suspects in sexual assault cases until they are convicted.

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