Officials defend jailing of 11-year-old

KAREN HUCKS; The News Tribune

Published 12:30AM, April 22nd, 2003

Two Pierce County deputy prosecutors say they had no choice in 1998 but to jail an 11-year-old girl as a witness in a murder trial, and Monday asked a judge to dismiss the girl's family lawsuit against them.

Prosecutors Barbara Corey-Boulet and Lisa Wagner said Cierra Hull was vital to the case against child rapist and murderer Guy Rasmussen, but hadn't shown up for a required interview.

Also, they said, her grandmother planned to move her out of state and her family had told police they no longer wanted her involved in the trial.

"Nobody likes to get a material witness warrant for anybody, especially a very young child," Corey-Boulet said in an interview. "We really believed that was our only option."

But attorney Brian Ladenburg, representing Hull's family, said they had been cooperative, and detectives knew by the time they arrested the girl that she simply hadn't had transportation to the missed interview.

Ladenburg wants a jury to decide whether Corey-Boulet and Wagner violated young Hull's constitutional rights by having her unfairly jailed for a weekend.

Superior Court Judge Russell Hartman, who usually presides in Kitsap County, will rule by the end of the week on whether the case will go to trial as scheduled in May.

In 1998, Hull was a witness in the death penalty trial of Rasmussen, eventually convicted of kidnapping, raping and murdering 9-year-old Cindy Allinger.

Hull had seen Allinger with Rasmussen the day she disappeared in 1996.

On May 28, 1998, after Hull didn't show up for a court-ordered pretrial interview with defense lawyers, Corey-Boulet and Wagner - with the blessing of the prosecutor - asked a judge to detain her as a material witness.

Lawyers for the county and the prosecutors say they had hoped the girl would be held for no more than 12 to 18 hours.

Detectives arrested Hull at Edison Elementary School the next day, just before she was to be named "student of the month."

But Superior Court Judge Karen Strombom wasn't available that Friday afternoon, so Hull spent the weekend at Remann Hall juvenile jail.

"Instead of receiving her student-of-the-month award and being lauded by her peers," Ladenburg said Monday, "she's arrested, thrown in a sheriff's car, taken to Remann Hall for the weekend and then mocked by her peers when she gets out. And she did nothing wrong."

While locked up, Hull was afraid, her lawsuit contends. An older girl spit on her in a fight and she wasn't able to talk to her grandmother as often as she wanted, her lawyer said.

And on that Monday, prosecutors let her go and scheduled the interview for later, he said.

Attorneys for the state and county counter that Hull watched television with the guards and received daily visits from her mother.

Outside the courtroom Monday, attorneys bickered over whether the girl had been unfairly treated.

"She came into court in chains," Ladenburg said.

"That's standard procedure" for handling material witnesses, county attorney Dan Hamilton said, noting they feared Hull would flee.

"For criminals," Ladenburg shot back.

Prosecutors have faced criticism for jailing witnesses in the past.

In late 2001, the county and the state - without admitting fault - agreed to pay $50,0000 to settle lawsuits by two women.

The women sued after deputy prosecutor Sunni Ko had them jailed on material witness warrants to make them testify in domestic violence cases in which they were the alleged victims.

 

Karen Hucks: 253-597-8660
karen.hucks@mail.tribnet.com