ACCUSED'S ALIBI 'AIRTIGHT,' DEFENSE SAYS / JURORS IN RASMUSSEN MURDER TRIAL BEGIN DELIBERATIONS

News Tribune

Published: 01-21-99

Category: Local/State

Page: B1

Keywords: Crime, Child/Children, Death, Sex, Rape, Kidnap, Murder, Pierce County, Court

Byline: John Gillie; The News Tribune

Cynthia Allinger's mother was the best alibi witness for the man accused of killing the 9-year-old girl, an attorney for the man told a Pierce County jury Wednesday during closing arguments.

Fred Leatherman said Rhonda Plank's memory of the sequence of events July 4, 1996, proves Guy Rasmussen couldn't have killed Allinger.

"Mr. Rasmussen has an absolutely airtight alibi," Leatherman told the jury of eight men and four women.

His closing arguments came at the conclusion of Rasmussen's 10-week trial on charges of aggravated first-degree murder, kidnapping and rape.

Allinger's decaying body was found beneath of pile of carpet in a Lakewood field July 17, 1996, nearly two weeks after her Independence Day disappearance.

Jurors began deliberations late Wednesday in Pierce County Superior Court Judge Karen Strombom's court. If they find Rasmussen guilty, the trial will move into a penalty phase in which they must decide whether he will be executed or serve a life prison term.

The Seattle defense lawyer contended Plank's own testimony, plus phone records and the testimony of her friends, showed Rasmussen would have had no time to rape and murder the girl July 4, 1996.

Pierce County deputy prosecutor Barbara Corey-Boulet contended Plank's recollection of events of July 4 are confused and that jurors should rely on the testimony of other witnesses.

Both sides' theories of what happened July 4 depend on when Plank last saw her daughter. Plank testified she saw her daughter last when Plank was washing her car that afternoon.

The defense maintained she washed her car sometime after 4 p.m. The prosecution maintains she washed the car sometime between 1:30 and 3 p.m. Prosecutors claimed Rasmussen could have led the girl to the field, raped and murdered her and walked to a convenience store to call a friend in less than an hour.

Leatherman based the defense timeline on Plank's testimony that she washed the car at 4:30 p.m. Rasmussen has a solid alibi from 4:15 p.m. onward that day that even the prosecution doesn't contest.

But Corey-Boulet in rebuttal arguments noted that Plank had told detectives and a 911 operator that she last saw her daughter about 3 p.m.

The defense lawyer said 3 p.m. was impossible because phone records show she spent from 2:38 p.m. to 3:56 p.m. talking with two friends on the phone. She told both friends that she was going to wash her car after she hung up. She likewise testified at the trial that she washed her car after those calls.

Corey-Boulet argued, however, that Plank was a frightened witness who was easily led into making statements favorable to the defense on cross-examination. The prosecutor claimed that Plank actually washed the car before the phone calls. Witnesses, the prosecutor said, saw Plank with a wash bucket in hand about 2 p.m. Leatherman said those witnesses, none of whom consulted a clock or wristwatch when they saw Plank, were simply wrong.

Corey-Boulet noted that Rasmussen never consistently accounted for himself that July afternoon. His lawyer told jurors the reason his client told differing stories to police was that he feared telling police he was buying drugs.

"Two years ago Mr. Rasmussen was what you might call a hippie stoner," his lawyer said. "He was planning to go to Rainbow Valley later that day. Now Rainbow Valley is not Benaroya Hall in Seattle. You go there to get screwed up and listen to music."

Investigators had ignored the possibility that someone else had killed the girl after they zeroed in on Rasmussen as a suspect, Leatherman said.

The neighborhood where she lived had a high number of convicted sex offenders and criminals living in it, he noted.

"The area where Cindy Allinger disappeared was not Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood," he said.

Leatherman also claimed that detectives, desperate to pin charges on Rasmussen, planted DNA evidence on a pair of cutoff shorts and a T-shirt that police seized. That evidence showed blood that matched Allinger's on both pieces of clothing.

Both a specimen of Allinger's spleen and the clothing were stored in a sheriff's property room where detectives could inspect the items unobserved, he said.

He suggested DNA experts in California, who tested the DNA found on the clothing spots, noted a strong odor of chemicals when they opened the bags containing the clothing. Leatherman said that chemical odor came from the preservative used to treat the girl's spleen for storage.

Corey-Boulet retorted that defense attorneys never tested the clothing for the presence of that chemical, something they should have done if they believed their own theory about planted evidence, she said.