TRIAL BEGINS IN GIRL'S DEATH / MAN CHARGED WITH STRANGLING CYNTHIA ALLINGER

News Tribune

Published: 10-22-98

Category: Front Page

Page: A1

Keywords: Local/State, Crime, Kidnap, Murder, Pierce County, Court, Death, Child, Rape

Correction Date: 10-23-98 Correction: In the murder trial of Guy M. Rasmussen, Pierce County Superior Court Judge Karen Strombom has levied sanctions of $500 against both defense attorneys, Fred Leatherman and Linda Sullivan, as well as the county's Department of Assigned Counsel. An A1 story Thursday reported the sanctions were imposed only on Sullivan.

Byline: John Gillie; The News Tribune

For nearly two weeks in the summer of 1996, only Cynthia Allinger's killer knew where she was.
Then the body of the 9-year-old was found under a pile of rugs near an abandoned house in Lakewood. She had been raped and strangled.

Now, more than two years later, the trial of Guy M. Rasmussen has begun in earnest. The murder case is already one of the most contentious in Pierce County history.

The state is seeking the death penalty for the 32-year-old man who is charged with first-degree aggravated murder in the death of the Lakewood girl.

Rasmussen, dressed Wednesday in a dark blue pin-striped suit, wearing wire-rimmed glasses and a conservative haircut, was a far cry from the long-locked, unshaven man arrested in the crime Nov. 14, 1996.

The only visible remnants of the former rock musician are the tattooed letters of his name on the knuckles of one hand.

In the trial, prosecutors will pit eyewitness accounts, DNA test results and a Hawaiian entomologist against the defense's own insect expert, eyewitness specialist and computerized time lines.

The trial technically began in early September after several postponements. But Wednesday was the first time jurors heard testimony or lawyers' statements.

The seven weeks since the trial's start have been consumed with jury selection and a blizzard of legal motions that have characterized the case since it began.

The case matches two of the county's most dogged deputy prosecutors, Barbara Corey-Boulet and Lisa Wagner, against Seattle attorney and death penalty expert Fred Leatherman and veteran public defender Linda Sullivan.

The voluminous case file already documents considerable animosity between the prosecutors and defense attorneys.

Leatherman, for instance, called foul when the prosecution earlier this year had an 11-year-old potential witness arrested at school and held over the weekend in Pierce County's juvenile jail. Prosecutors feared she would refuse to testify in the case.

And prosecutors have successfully sought sanctions of $500 against Sullivan for her alleged failure to provide them with an expert's notes before trial.

Now, Wagner and Corey-Boulet are seeking another $1,000 in fines against the defense team for similar reasons. Sullivan and Leatherman have secured the services of noted Tacoma lawyer Monte Hester to defend them.

Leatherman also has unsuccessfully sought to have the prosecutors removed from the case because of what he calls unethical conduct and conflicts of interest.

In opening statements Wednesday, both sides warned jurors to expect a long, hard-fought case. The trial is expected to last at least until Christmas.

Because of the length of the case and time already invested in it, Pierce County Superior Court Judge Karen Strombom has seated 16 jurors, four more than the 12 necessary to reach a verdict. If a juror becomes ill or otherwise is unable to serve, one of four alternates would be seated in the juror's place.

Wagner told jurors the prosecution has witnesses who saw Rasmussen and the girl together on the afternoon of July 4, 1996, the day she disappeared. A DNA test showed Allinger could have been the source of a single spot of blood found on a T-shirt Rasmussen was wearing the day of the girl's disappearance, Wagner said.

And Rasmussen's inconsistent stories to detectives suggest he was lying to cover up the horrible truth, the deputy prosecutor said. When Allinger's body was found under a pile of rugs near an abandoned house in the Lakewood area nearly two weeks after she disappeared, Rasmussen seemed to know she was dead even before police made it public, Wagner told jurors.

Leatherman countered that his client couldn't have killed the girl because he was otherwise occupied during the time prosecutors claim she died.

The defense lawyer, who has tried five other death penalty cases and aided defense teams in six other capital murder cases, showed the jury a computerized time line in an attempt to show that Rasmussen could not have been where prosecutors say he was.

That time line traced the girl's known sightings and Rasmussen's activities documented by phone records and his own witness accounts.

"It is utterly impossible for Guy Rasmussen to have killed Cindy Allinger," the attorney told the jury.

Leatherman said his experts will testify Allinger could not have been killed where her body was discovered because of the kinds of insects found on her corpse. Other experts will testify they believe Allinger's body was placed beneath the rugs 10 days after she disappeared, he said.

Throughout Wednesday's trial, Rasmussen appeared unrattled by the information presented against him. He smiled and occasionally waved to those in the gallery he recognized after court.

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* Staff writer John Gillie can be reached at 253-597-8663 or via e-mail at jlg@p.tribnet.com