End of Sterling sex assault case draws near

In the case of a Sterling woman accused of sexually assaulting a teenage boy in 2014, the state called its last witness for the prosecution Monday.

Assistant District Attorney Kelly Lawson called the minor, who was 14 at the time of the alleged attack, to the stand as her last witness during trial Monday at the Kenai Courthouse. Testimony will continue Tuesday before she and Defense Attorney Dina Cale make their closing arguments in a case more than a year and a half old.

Laurel Lee, 52, was charged on Oct. 1, 2014 with first-degree sexual assault, kidnapping and second-degree sexual abuse of a minor after it was reported to Alaska State Troopers that she pulled the boy off his bike near the Sterling Highway, dragged him away from the road and into the woods and forced oral sex on him.

On the stand Monday, the boy recalled the incident on Sept. 30, 2014 for both Lawson and Cale.

“I was in shock,” he said. “I didn’t really know what to do.”

The minor described being yanked off his bike near mile 80 of the highway and dragged into the woods by Lee. Once there, he said he was on his back while she sexually assaulted him.

More than a year and a half after the alleged attack, the boy was no longer clear about how exactly Lee held him down on his back, saying she held both his hands in one of her own, and that she either kneeled on his legs or put a foot on his feet while also holding them with her other hand to keep him from fighting back.

Of the fact that it wasn’t consensual, though, he was sure.

“It seemed like forever,” the minor said. “But I guess it was … probably two minutes.”

The boy was able to fight Lee off when he began struggling harder after hearing his brother riding a 4-wheeler in the area, he said. The boy was expected at a hockey event that night, and his older brother had been out looking for him.

Cale went over the fact that, prior to testifying, the boy was granted immunity from the state so that he can not be prosecuted if he admits any criminal activity during testimony. The minor said the request was made at the suggestion of another lawyer representing him, Bill Taylor of the Kenai Public Defender’s Office. He said he doesn’t believe he did anything wrong the day of the alleged attack.

Cale also called as a witness for the defense Angela Butler, a forensic serologist from the Serological Research Institude, or SERI, a private lab in California. As a serologist, Butler specializes in analyzing body fluids. She conducted the independent testing of Lee’s pants at the request of the defense, and found the presence of semen from the minor.

When asked Friday why he hadn’t mentioned in his initial interviews and grand jury testimony that he had ejaculated during the incident, the minor said he had never been asked.

Butler also tested DNA swabs taken from the alleged victim for the presence of saliva before becoming aware the Alaska State Crime Lab had utilized all the useful swab material in its own tests done to get DNA profiles.

The profiles are used to help identify people involved in alleged crimes. DNA from both the minor and Lee could not be excluded from the swab samples, and no one else’s DNA was found, according to testimony from Sara Graziano of the state crime lab.

In previous hearings and during the trial, Cale has maintained that testing the swabs from the minor for the presence of saliva would have been helpful to her because, had they come back negative, that would have gone against the state’s position that Lee performed oral sex on the boy. Graziano testified last week that the state lab doesn’t automatically test for saliva because no tests exist that can confirm its presence or absence with certainty. The enzyme identified when testing for saliva, called amylase, is also found in breast milk and vaginal fluid, so there is no way to tell for sure if amylase found in testing comes from saliva or one of its other known sources, Graziano testified.

On the stand Friday, Butler said the SERI lab does have what it considers to be a confirmatory test for saliva. There are two types of amylase, she said — type 1 and type 2.

“The highest concentration is found in saliva,” Butler said of amylase. “There’s also a lot of amylase in feces, there’s a lot of amylase in breast milk. And when you get into urine and semen and vaginal secretion, it’s much weaker.”

Amylase type 1 is found in saliva, sweat and sometimes vaginal secretions, while type 2 is found in things like urine or feces, Butler said.

The lab has a three-test process to first identify that there are elevated levels of the enzyme in a DNA sample, and then narrow down whether or not the enzyme came from saliva, Butler said.

SERI is a private lab, meaning it is not overseen in the same way as the Alaska State Crime Lab, a public agency, Butler said. Both labs are accredited, and audited every few years.

Reach Megan Pacer at megan.pacer@peninsulaclarion.com.

More in News

Emerson Kapp, second-place winner of the 2023 Caring for the Kenai competition, shows participants how to use her project, the Kenai Peninsula Maze Board, during the Kenai River Festival on Friday, June 9, 2023, at Soldotna Creek Park in Soldotna, Alaska. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)
Kenai River Fair to offer education, fun for free on June 8

Kenai Watershed Forum’s annual summer event gets new name, renewed focus on education

A sign marks the entrance of Centennial Park and Campground on Tuesday, Nov. 9, 2021 in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Tree planting event set for Centennial Park

Planting trees in the area is a crucial method for protecting and rehabilitating the streambank, organizers say

Alaska State Troopers logo.
1 dead, 3 missing after boat capsizes near Seward

Alaska State Troopers were notified by the U.S. Coast Guard of an overturned vessel around 1:30 p.m. on Wednesday

Erosion of the Kenai bluff near the Kenai Senior Center. (Photo by Aidan Curtin courtesy Scott Curtin)
Ribbon-cutting for bluff stabilization project set for June 10

The bluff has been eroding at a rate of around 3 feet per year

A bag of freshly dug razor clams is held aloft at the Ninilchik Beach in Ninilchik, Alaska, on Saturday, July 1, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)
No clamming in Ninilchik or Clam Gulch this year

Adult abundance “well below” fishery thresholds on both beaches

Poppies are affixed to wreaths during a Memorial Day ceremony at Leif Hanson Memorial Park in Kenai on Monday. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)
Remembering the sacrifices of the fallen

Speakers ask community to be inspired through sacrifice of service members

A fallen tree reaches onto Kalifornsky Beach Road in Soldotna, Alaska, as cars drive by on Friday, Sept. 1, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)
Grants, borough to support HEA effort to mitigate dangerous trees

HEA will have permission to enter borough land and the borough’s right of way

Assembly President Brent Johnson asks questions of representatives of the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District during a joint work session of the School Board and Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly in Soldotna, Alaska, on Tuesday, April 2, 2024. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)
Borough to enter contract for asbestos flooring abatement in 3 central peninsula schools

The work will be done at Kenai Central High, Kenai Alternative High and Sterling Elementary schools

Most Read