TIME OF CAR WASH IS KEY IN MURDER TRIAL / DEFENDANT'S ALIBI HINGES, IN PART, ON WHEN CINDY ALLINGER'S MOTHER CLEANED HER VEHICLE
Keywords: Crime, Testimony, Chronology, Murder, Rape, Death, Child/Children, Pierce County, Court, Law/Legal
Image: BW PHOTO / Duncan Livingston/The News
Tribune: A grocery cart of evidence sits amid other exhibits in a
Pierce County courtroom as a court employee takes in the
proceedings. The murder trial of Guy Matthew Rasmussen is
expected to continue into 1999. (B3)
SIDEBAR: Defense time line in Allinger murder case (B3)
Byline: John Gillie; The News Tribune
Whether Guy Matthew Rasmussen is convicted and sentenced to die for murdering 9-year-old Cynthia Allinger might well depend on when her mother washed her car the day the girl disappeared.
The timing of that simple act 28 months ago has emerged as the pivotal fact in the aggravated-murder case against the 32-year-old former rock band member.
The jury, now hearing its fifth week of testimony, will decide whether Rasmussen is acquitted of murdering and raping the Lakewood girl in a trial expected to continue into the new year.
More than 200 exhibits, ranging from clothing to autopsy samples, have been offered into evidence.
Dozens of prosecution witnesses, from detectives to teenagers who searched for the girl's body, have testified as prosecutors built their case.
But despite the panoramic view of the case, the lengthy testimony and numerous exhibits, the jury's belief about the time Rhonda Plank, Allinger's mother, washed her car July 4, 1996, could make all the difference.
That's because Plank has consistently told detectives and lawyers she last saw her oldest daughter as she prepared to wash her car that day.
Both prosecutors and defense lawyers agree that moment marks the beginning of the period in which the child's killer abducted her, took her to an abandoned house, raped her, broke her jaw, then smothered her by stuffing her underpants down her throat. The killer then covered her body with carpet scraps in a brushy, sheltered area near the old house, placed an old water tank atop the pile and left her body to decompose.
But as consistent as Plank has been in saying she last saw her daughter when she was getting ready to clean her car, she has been inconsistent about what time it was.
She told the case's lead detective, Theresa Berg, in an initial interview that she had washed the car at 12:30 p.m. Later in that same interview, she told Berg she washed the car at 4:30 p.m.
On the witness stand, she told prosecutors she thought she last saw her daughter about 3 p.m., but then told the defense on cross-examination it could have been closer to 4:30 p.m.
In opening statements last month, Rasmussen's chief defense counsel, Fred Leatherman, showed the jury an elaborate time line that purportedly showed Rasmussen had no time to commit the crime the day the prosecution said Allinger died.
''Mr. Rasmussen had an absolute iron-clad alibi,'' Leatherman said. "He could not have committed this crime.''
In her opening statements, Pierce County deputy prosecutor Lisa Wagner told jurors Plank last saw her daughter about 3 p.m. Leatherman suggested in his time line that their last contact was about 4:30 p.m.
While they differed on that issue, both prosecutors and defense lawyers agreed Rasmussen's whereabouts were positively established after 4:15 p.m.
"It's true that after 4:15 on that afternoon, the defendant does in fact have an alibi, but the evidence in this case is going to show that Cynthia Allinger was dead long before 4:15 that afternoon,'' Wagner told jurors.
But Leatherman contends that even if he concedes Plank last saw her daughter at 3 p.m., Rasmussen could not have abducted the girl, walked with her a half-mile to the abandoned house, raped her, killed her, covered up her body, then walked another mile to the convenience store where he made a phone call to a friend to give him a ride home.
Phone records of that call and his friend's testimony have established Rasmussen's whereabouts at 4:15 p.m.
That friend had another friend pick up the defendant at the convenience store. The two arrived at Rasmussen's home about 4:45 p.m.
From then until he left with his girlfriend and a housemate to go to a rock festival at Thurston County's Rainbow Valley after 6:30 p.m., Rasmussen didn't leave his home, friends testified.
Detectives didn't find Allinger's decomposed body for nearly two weeks after she disappeared, though several search parties including one equipped with a scent-detecting dog passed near the site where her body was hidden.
The defense contended in its opening statement that the girl's body wasn't placed under that pile of carpeting until several days after her disappearance, but prosecutors maintain she died July 4.
Though Rasmussen's alibi defense is proving nettlesome for the prosecution, prosecutors have just begun to reveal the evidence that could prove to be their greatest strength: DNA evidence that strongly suggests that Cindy Allinger's blood was smeared on both a pair of cutoff shorts and tie-dyed T-shirts seized from the unused bathtub where the defendant stored his wardrobe.
The senior prosecutor in the case, Barbara Corey-Boulet, said the prosecution's case will likely take at least three more weeks to present with more physical and documentary evidence to be presented.
Already more than 200 exhibits clutter the front of Judge Karen Strombom's courtroom. Some are corralled in old shopping carts, others are stacked in paper bags on tables and yet others are piled atop the lower portions of the bench.
Once the prosecution's case is done, Rasmussen's lawyers will begin their witnesses, some three dozen at last count.
With expected court holidays, the case is not expected to conclude until well after Jan. 1.
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* Staff writer John Gillie covers courts in Pierce County. Reach him at 253-597-8663 or by e-mail at email@example.com
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SIDEBAR: Defense time line in Allinger murder case
July 4, 1996:
* 1 p.m. - Cynthia Allinger leaves her home to play with friends.
* 4:15 p.m. - Guy Rasmussen telephones a friend, Jay Kuerst, from a convenience store at 108th Street Southwest and Bridgeport Way Southwest to seek a ride home.
* 4:30 p.m. - Rhonda Plank sees daughter Cynthia as Plank begins to wash her car. (The prosecution contends this happened earlier in the afternoon.) The girl talks with her briefly, then leaves again. Kuerst's friend, Gary Cormier, picks up Rasmussen at the convenience store.
* 4:45 p.m. - Cormier drops off Rasmussen at his home.
* 6:45 p.m. - After showering and shaving, Rasmussen leaves for Thurston County's Rainbow Valley with friends. He will remain there for three days until police pick him up.
* 11 p.m. - Rhonda Plank calls 911 to report her daughter missing after several hours of trying to find the girl.