The entrance to the Kenai Courthouse in Kenai, AK as seen on February 26, 2019. (Photo by Brian Mazurek/Peninsula Clarion)

The entrance to the Kenai Courthouse in Kenai, AK as seen on February 26, 2019. (Photo by Brian Mazurek/Peninsula Clarion)

Sterling man convicted for 2001 kidnapping, sexual assault

This case had been closed since 2002 after investigators failed to locate a suspect.

Following a three-week jury trial, a Sterling man accused of sexually assaulting a woman in 2001 has been found guilty on two counts of first-degree sexual assault and one count of kidnapping, according to a Thursday press release from the Alaska Department of Law.

Carmen Perzechino, Jr., 59, of Sterling, will be sentenced under the laws that were in place in 2001. He faces eight years of imprisonment for each sexual assault charge and between five and 99 years for the kidnapping charge.

The charges stem from an incident in 2001, when Perzechino sexually assaulted a woman in his van and threatened to kill her, according to testimony presented at trial. The victim escaped by jumping from Perzechino’s van, as witnessed by a Department of Transportation employee the night of the incident.

This case had been closed since 2002 after investigators failed to locate a suspect, but was reopened in 2019 when the victim’s sexual assault kit was tested along with a backlog of other sexual assault kits in the Alaska State Troopers’ possession as part of the federally funded Sexual Assault Kit Initiative (SAKI).

The sexual assault kit was not tested at the time of the incident, “because standard practice at the time was to test kits when there was an identified suspect whose DNA could be directly compared to the DNA collected in the sexual assault kit,” according to the DOL press release.

Michael Burkmire, an investigator with the Sexual Assault Kit Initiative, contacted Perzechino in January of 2019 after Perzechino’s DNA profile matched the DNA from the kit. Investigation also showed that Perzechino was living in Sterling at the time of the assault and owned a van that matched the description of the suspect vehicle.

Perzechino denied any involvement in the incident when contacted by Burkmire, but 10 days after being contacted he fled to the Philippines. Perzechino was arrested in the Philippines in April 2019 and extradited to the United States.

Assistant Attorney Jenna Gruenstein prosecuted the case.

“We owe it to every survivor to never give up, and make sure every possible piece of evidence or lead is tracked down,” Alaska’s Department of Public Safety Commissioner Amanda Price said in the press release. “I would specifically like to thank DPS Investigator Michael Burkmire for his tireless work on this case that brought justice to the survivor and protected Alaskans by getting this offender off the streets. A huge thank you to the survivor for her strength and perseverance during a difficult process. DPS stands with and continues to fight for justice for every survivor.”

Deputy Attorney General John Skidmore also praised the survivor’s perseverance after not seeing justice for nearly 20 years.

“She survived the sexual assault, she survived the two decades wait for the big break in the case, then survived the rigors of being cross examined as victim in a sexual assault case — something none of us would ever want to experience,” Skidmore said in the press release. “And to top it all off, she testified at a time when jury trials have been suspended due to the global pandemic of COVID. She is truly a remarkable person. I also want to acknowledge and thank Jenna Gruenstein, who prosecuted this case, for her dedication and commitment to fighting the scourge of sexual assault in Alaska.”

Reach reporter Brian Mazurek at bmazurek@peninsulaclarion.com.

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