Witness disputes Montoya rape
By Ramon Coronado
Sacramento Bee Staff Writer
(Published Aug. 23, 2000)

SANTA ROSA -- The defense continued its assertion Tuesday that Alex Dale Thomas did not rape Michelle Montoya before murdering her in the Rio Linda High School wood shop.

Defense witness Brent Turvey, a lecturer and author of a textbook about forensic science, called the high school senior a strong-willed person who would have fought any rape attempt by the substitute janitor.

"This was a very healthy, very strong and confident girl," Turvey said. "She would have fought back."

Thomas, 38, concedes he killed the 18-year-old, but maintains they had consensual sex and that he went into a killing rage as she was walking out of the wood shop.

If convicted of forcible rape, Thomas faces a possible death sentence. If acquitted, the three-strike parolee faces life in prison without chance of parole.

Deputy District Attorney Tim Frawley, who has described the claim of consensual sex as "preposterous," questioned Turvey's credibility as an expert witness.

"You are not a psychologist?" Frawley asked Turvey in bitter cross-examination.

"No, sir, I am not," said Turvey, who has bachelor's degrees in history and psychology and a master's degree in forensic science.

Holding up a badge, Turvey said he also was a "sworn detective" in Sitka, Alaska, where he is working part-time on a rape-murder case.

Frawley has told jurors that Thomas overheard Montoya argue with her stepfather on the wood shop telephone about getting ride home after school May 16, 1997.

Thomas then cornered Montoya and threatened to kill her if she didn't comply with his wishes. After she put her clothes back on, she started to leave the shop and that's when Thomas murdered her to keep her from reporting the rape, the prosecutor has contended.

But according to Turvey, investigators probing the rape and murder overlooked key pieces of evidence. Parts of the puzzle just didn't fit, such as the lack of "classic" defense wounds on Montoya's body, he said.

"The bulk of my experience is that women who are athletic put up a fight. I've seen victims resist to the point that an offender would beat them to death when the offender would have not ordinarily done that," Turvey said.

The 5-foot-4-inch, 120-pound Montoya lifted weights and competed in soccer tournaments all over Northern California, according to her family and witnesses.

Thomas, at the time of his arrest, was described by police as 5 feet 9 inches tall, 160 pounds.

Upon questioning from defense attorney, Bradley Holmes, Turvey said Montoya's slaying was an act of "overkill," which is typical of a person overcome by rage.

Montoya, who died of multiple injuries, was bludgeoned with a crow bar, had her throat slit twice and was stabbed three times in the back.

Forensic pathologists have testified that were many other minor bruises and abrasions, but they couldn't say for sure if any of the were so-called "control" wounds left by rapist on wrists or necks of their victims.

When asked by Frawley if one of the two shallow stab wounds to her back could have been a "control" wound inflicted by her attacker, Turvey said that wasn't likely because her blouse covered the wounds.

Turvey also dismissed what Frawley called a "strategy of survival" in which Montoya simply complied with her attacker's demands to stay alive.

"I don't think that is reasonable. She was able to redress," said Turvey. He described the girl redressing in a semi-private part of the wood shop as "an act of modesty."

That claim infuriated Frawley, who has told jurors it is inconceivable that an 18-year-old girl would find a custodian twice her age, with tattoos on his face and chest, sexually attractive. Thomas had worked at the school for only three days, and he and Montoya were in the wood shop together no longer than a half hour before she was killed, testimony has showed.

"You believe that Michelle Montoya would agree to a quickie act of sexual intercourse with a virtual stranger?" Frawley asked Turvey.

"I do," he said.

Defense testimony resumes this morning and closing arguments may begin as early as Thursday.

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