Sterling sexual assault trial continues

Attorneys in the case of a Sterling woman accused of sexually assaulting a minor closed out the second day of testimony with discussion of DNA evidence collected from the alleged victim and defendant, with the weekend separating the jury from testimony by the alleged victim himself.

The trial for 52-year-old Laurel Lee began Tuesday, more than a year and a half after Alaska State Troopers alleged she yanked a 14-year-old boy off his bicycle on the Sterling Highway, pulled him up a hill and into a wooded area where she forced oral sex on him. She was charged with first-degree sexual assault, kidnapping and second-degree sexual abuse of a minor on Oct. 1, 2014, a day after she allegedly attacked the boy, now 15.

Among the witnesses Assistant District Attorney Kelly Lawson called for the state were Kristie Stockton, a registered nurse at Central Peninsula Hospital who performed the SART (Sexual Assault Response Teams) exam on the minor, and Sara Graziano, a forensic scientist from the Alaska State Crime Lab who analyzed DNA from swab samples taken from the boy and from Lee.

Stockton described how she collected swabs from the minor when he was brought to a clinic in Kenai to be examined following the alleged attack. He declined a full SART exam, so she was only able to complete the evidence collection portion, she testified. Stockton wasn’t able to make a determination about whether the minor’s story lined up with what she saw because she wasn’t able to complete the entire exam, she said.

“All I did was evidence collection,” Stockton said. “There’s no way for me to draw a conclusion without a full medical exam and … like I said it’s not my responsibility to tell whether or not the person is telling the truth or not.”

Graziano detailed for jurors the process of coming up with a DNA profile from samples collected and sent to the crime lab.

She explained that neither the boy nor Lee could be excluded from the DNA she analyzed, and that no one else’s DNA was found in those samples. However, she clarified that there is no way to tell from what kind of human cells that DNA came.

Lee’s defense attorney, Dina Cale, has explained at previous hearings that her theory of defense is that Lee was sexually assaulted by the minor.

At an evidentiary hearing before the trial, Cale claimed it would have been helpful for her to have the samples independently tested for saliva, as the absence of it would work against the state’s claim that Lee forced oral sex on the boy.

Graziano explained at that hearing that the Alaska State Crime Lab doesn’t automatically test for saliva because no confirmatory saliva tests exist.

The enzyme identified when testing for saliva, amylase, is found in numerous other things such as vaginal fluid and breast milk.

Lee was first taken to Central Peninsula Hospital the night of the alleged assault before being taken to Wildwood Pretrial Facility to be held until she was less intoxicated. It wasn’t until later that she was charged and no longer allowed to leave the facility.

A release form from the hospital discussed Friday showed Lee’s blood alcohol content was .295 the night she was held there. The legal limit is .08.

Also questioned Friday was Sgt. Mark Pearson who oversees investigators for the Alaska Bureau of Investigation in Soldotna.

He testified that Lee was still intoxicated when he returned later that night to retrieve a DNA sample from her, and that she started out calm but escalated to distressed and uncooperative.

When Pearson again returned to Wildwood the morning of Oct. 1, 2014 to question Lee after she had been charged, he testified that she made no mention of any physical contact between her and the boy, saying only that he had come up to her on his bike and asked her to have sex with him.

It wasn’t until Oct. 2 that Pearson found out Lee believed she was the one who had been assaulted, he said.

By Oct. 3, Lee had sent a letter saying she would not answer any more of their questions, he testified.

Lawson had planned to call the alleged victim as a witness and to rest her case Friday, but will continue when trial resumes Monday.

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

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