After three and a half days of listening to testimony, a jury was sent Tuesday to deliberate on whether Sterling resident Laurel Lee is guilty of charges of kidnapping, sexual assault and sexual abuse of a minor.
Lee, 52, was charged with first-degree sexual assault, second-degree sexual abuse of a minor and the kidnapping count after allegedly attacking a then-14-year-old boy near mile 80 of the Sterling Highway on Sept. 30, 2014. The boy reported and later testified that Lee pulled him off his bike after waving him over to the side of the highway she was on, dragging him up a small hill next to the road and into the woods where she forced oral sex on him.
Assistant District Attorney Kelly Lawson and Defense Attorney Dina Cale both rested their cases after the boy’s testimony finished Tuesday. Lee chose not to testify. The lawyers presented two very different accounts to jurors in their closing arguments — one in which the minor is the victim, and one in which he lied to hide the fact that Lee was victimized.
“It certainly is an unusual case, isn’t it?” Lawson said while addressing the jury. “An adult female being charged with sexually assaulting a 14-year-old male, a 14-year-old boy. Unusual, yes, but not unbelievable. And the reason it’s not unbelievable is you yourselves saw a firsthand account from (the boy) here in court. You saw his body language, you listened to his details, you heard his explanation of what happened that night.”
Cale pointed to inconsistencies in the minor’s recollection of the alleged assault, such as whether he was always on the same side of the road as Lee or whether he crossed when she called him over, or whether she had been kneeling or standing on his legs to keep him from struggling.
“… A five-foot one(-inch), 51-year-old woman who probably weighed about 130 pounds at the time, staggering, stumbling drunk, holding his two hands in her one hand, and manages while he’s flat out on the ground to pull his pants down without his help, while she’s either kneeling or standing on him,” Cale said. “Not unusual. It defies logic, ladies and gentlemen.”
Cale also reminded the jury that the boy had never said in his interviews with law enforcement that he had ejaculated during the incident. Lawson countered that these differences in his account occurred because the boy hadn’t been asked some of the questions until the trial.
“You’ve also heard some amount of conjecture, assumption and perhaps even some misinformation about what Laurel Lee wants you to believe happened that night,” Lawson told the jury.
Both attorneys brought up the lack of an airtight timeline in arguing their case. Lawson used the fact that Alaska State Troopers hadn’t asked the boy what time certain things had happened that day as an explanation of why he might be hazy on some of the facts more than a year and a half later. She also said he did his best to clarify his answers when they didn’t line up with information given in previous interviews.
“The details weren’t given because he was never asked,” Lawson said. “You heard that … the main investigator in this case … spent no more than 15 or 16 minutes with him that night. Trooper Carson was also dealing with an unusual situation, a male victim, a boy. Something that doesn’t happen that often. An awkward situation indeed, and embarrassing, and uncomfortable. So is it really that hard to believe that Trooper Carson didn’t ask all the questions that he should have? No.”
Cale argued that because troopers hadn’t requested phone records from the minor and his older brother, and hadn’t asked for more specifics, the boy couldn’t be accounted for between the time he got home from school and the time the troopers were sent to the scene and his home around 6:50 p.m.
“It’s two years ago, people don’t remember these details,” Cale said. “But keep in mind not a single trooper tried to give us a timeline.”
During the latter part of his testimony Tuesday, the minor said for the first time that he had biked down to the river before starting his trip to the store where he ran into Lee, which he said took up some of that time.
Cale said she was not challenging the evidence that Lee’s DNA was found on the boy, but said there was more to the story the defense won’t be able to know because all the useful material from the swabs taken from the minor were used before saliva testing could be done.
Lawson argued that the boys would not have reported the incident to their grandmother or showed troopers where Lee lay in the woods after the alleged attack if they had in fact attacked her.
“These aren’t the actions of a couple of kids who did something horribly, horribly wrong,” Lawson said.
Jurors were sent to deliberate for the latter part of the day.
Kidnapping is an unclassified felony in Alaska, for which Lee could face up to 99 years in prison and a fine of up to $500,000. First-degree sexual assault is also an unclassified felony, and carries a presumptive range of 20-30 years in prison when it involves a minor 13-years-old or older. Sexual abuse of a minor in the second degree is a class B felony, and carries a presumptive range of 5-15 years in prison if it is a person’s first felony conviction.