In a rare move, an Anchorage judge Wednesday dismissed felony charges against a young woman charged with breaking into a Spenard family’s home, acting erratically and trying to steal a car.
Anchorage Superior Court Judge Kevin Saxby found that two crucial pieces of evidence that bolstered the woman’s defense that she was escaping from a sexual assault were destroyed by police or not turned over to her attorneys until the second day of trial.
“In combination, the two violations, especially the willful destruction of evidence, I can’t do anything short of a dismissal,” Saxby said.
The Daily News is not identifying the 23-year-old woman by name because of her assertion that she is a victim of sexual assault. The ADN’s policy is generally to not identify victims of sexual assault by name.
The woman said she ran into a house on Woodland Park Drive in the Spenard neighborhood on Nov. 3 in distress because she had escaped a car where she’d been sexually assaulted. Both sides agreed that she was bleeding, screaming and not wearing pants.
Instead of seeing the woman as a possible victim of sexual assault, police took her to jail instead of a hospital, her court-appointed attorneys argued.
Bloodied shorts that could have been used as evidence of an attack against her were thrown away by a police officer. And a 911 call from a neighbor corroborated her story but wasn’t turned over to her lawyers until the trial was about to begin.
The case rested on two versions of events, and two missing pieces of evidence:
Prosecutors said the woman broke down the door of the home at 9 a.m. on the morning of Nov. 3, 2018, yelling that someone was “raping and murdering” her, according to a probable cause statement prepared by police.
She was wearing only a tank top and underwear and was bleeding from her crotch area. The woman, who was a stranger to the homeowner, put on a pair of shorts from the house, armed herself with a knife from the kitchen and grabbed the family’s car keys.
The startled homeowner and her two children called 911.
When police arrived, the woman was in the family’s car in the driveway, which she drove a few feet before police apprehended her, according to testimony in court.
Handcuffed in a police car, she ranted about the officer’s mother being “a weasel” rather than answering questions, the responding officer said.
Defense attorneys for the woman argued that that she was a distraught victim of sexual assault, and that police immediately treated her as a suspect rather than a victim.
She was taken to the Anchorage jail, where APD officer Melissa Coates testified that she threw away the bloody shorts.
Coates testified that she left the woman wearing bloody underwear. Neither item was preserved as evidence.
Coates told the court that she didn’t consider the woman a victim. She noted that when the woman was directly asked about her initial statement that someone was “raping and murdering” her, she only smiled in response.
“We can’t make someone be a victim,” she said.
Defense attorney Jaffer Khimani asked why the bleeding woman wasn’t taken to a hospital.
“I’m not a doctor,” Coates answered.
The defense pressed her about why she didn’t keep the shorts as evidence, given the woman’s previous statement that she’d been raped.
Coates said the woman wouldn’t talk about it, so she didn’t feel there was enough evidence that a sexual assault had happened.
After the dismissal Wednesday, a police spokesman said the department will review what happened in the case.
“As with all cases that get dismissed based on our investigation, we will review it and make any necessary changes, if warranted,” said Anchorage Police Department spokesman MJ Thim.
The prosecution blamed an oversight in the evidence-handling system for the delay in getting the defense the audio of a 911 call, in which a neighbor reported seeing a woman jump out of a car screaming “Help!” around the time of the incident.
The car seemed to be pursuing the woman, the caller told 911 in audio played in the courtroom.
Saxby said the destruction of evidence robbed the woman of a chance to pursue her defense that she’d been raped — or for police to investigate the potential sexual assault.
“Given the deliberate destruction of the shorts — they don’t have those to corroborate their story now,” he said. “They’re gone. And they can’t be tested.”
Despite Wednesday’s dismissal, the woman still faces one charge of lying to police by giving them a fake name when they questioned her.
She spent much of Tuesday and Wednesday’s court hearings in distress, suffering from what her lawyers said was an allergic reaction. She put her head down on the table as the police officer recounted the scene. Eventually she left the courtroom to see a doctor.
She had spent more than four months in jail before the dismissal, unable to make a $500 bail.