Issues surrounding DNA evidence will be argued before the trial for a Sterling woman accused of sexually assaulting a minor can take place.
Laurel Lee, 52, was charged with first-degree sexual assault, kidnapping and second-degree sexual abuse of a minor on Oct. 1, 2014. Alaska State Troopers allege that she pulled a 14-year-old boy off his bicycle near the Sterling Highway, took him into the woods and sexually assaulted him by forcibly performing oral sex.
Lee was scheduled to go to trial Monday. At her trial call Wednesday at the Kenai Courthouse, a possible delay to the trial was discussed as a result of issues surrounding DNA testing.
Lee’s defense attorney, Dina Cale, filed Monday a 25-page motion to dismiss Lee’s indictment or “in the alternative,” suppress DNA testing results from the state. In it, she wrote that the Alaska State Crime Lab used up all the material from six swabs taken from the alleged victim during its testing, making additional testing for saliva futile.
This is important, Cale said at the Wednesday hearing, because part of her defense will be that Lee was the one who was sexually assaulted, not the other way around. Testing the swabs for saliva would have been central to the argument of whether or not Lee forcibly performed oral sex on the alleged victim, she wrote in the motion.
She included in the motion an excerpt from an email from a member of the crime lab that states “during my analysis … I utilized all of the peripheral swab material, effectively leaving no sample remaining for (the independent tester) to reasonably test any physical evidence.”
Cale wrote in the motion that this was not in line with crime lab procedures that an entire sample does not routinely get used if there are more than two swabs.
The defense wanted to independently test the DNA swabs as well as Lee’s pants starting in July 2015, according to the motion.
Cale wrote in the motion that by failing to preserve the material from the six swabs, the state violated Lee’s right to due process.
“The Lab in this case made no effort to retain any of the swabs for further testing, created no notes indicating why it was necessary to consume the entirety of all six swabs, did not clearly note the entire sample had been consumed or attempted to only use as much material as necessary to obtain a DNA profile,” she wrote.
Cale has also filed a motion asking for expedited consideration of the motion, which Assistant District Attorney Kelly Lawson is opposing.
Lawson told the court Wednesday that the motion is too lengthy and poses too big an issue to be dealt with quickly, requesting more time for a separate evidentiary hearing before trial.
Based on what she said she has read of the motion so far, she thinks it requires hearing testimony from someone at the Alaska State Crime Lab.
Lawson said while she understands everyone involved wants to get to trial, the DNA evidence is too important in this case for the motion to be dealt with quickly.
“It’s again our position that we should not rush this issue,” Lawson said.
Kenai Superior Court Judge Carl Bauman set a continued hearing for Monday to hold an evidentiary hearing to go over the issues the motion presents. He said he expects the state to have someone from the crime lab there either in person or over the phone to testify.
Bauman said the result of Monday’s hearing will decide whether everyone is ready to go to trial Tuesday.
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