LATE ALLEGATION ARISES IN RASMUSSEN CASE / LAWYERS FOR MAN FOUND GUILTY OF KILLING GIRL RAISE QUESTIONS ABOUT HER MOTHER'S ROLE
Keywords: Crime, Murder, Death, Child/Children, Pierce County, Court, Kidnap, Rape, Capital punishment
Byline: John Gillie; The News Tribune
A twist in the contentious trial of convicted child killer Guy Rasmussen could put jury deliberations on the defendant's punishment on hold.
The twist involved an 11th-hour allegation - since recanted - that the murder victim, 9-year-old Cynthia Allinger, died at her mother's hand, not Rasmussen's.
The contention came to prosecutors' attention Thursday. A lawyer for the boyfriend of Allinger's mother, Rhonda Plank, sent a letter saying the boyfriend claimed Plank killed the girl. The boyfriend, David Bauschman, is in Pierce County Jail on a first-degree assault charge that he beat Plank on Jan. 21.
Prosecutors sent a letter to defense attorneys about the allegations Friday.
Tuesday afternoon, Rasmussen's lead defense counsel asked Pierce County Superior Court Judge Karen Strombom, who has presided over the nearly six-month-long trial, to delay the trial for three weeks while the defense investigates the claims.
But Strombom denied defense attorney Fred Leatherman's motion, saying the allegations weren't relevant in the penalty phase of the trial. Strombom also denied a motion to allow defense lawyers to tell the jury Plank had failed two lie detector tests.
The jury convicted Rasmussen on Jan. 28 of aggravated first-degree murder, kidnapping and rape and now is charged with deciding how he will be punished: by life imprisonment or by death. Before final arguments began in the penalty phase Tuesday, Leatherman left the courtroom to appeal Strombom's rulings to the Washington State Supreme Court.
Pierce County deputy prosecutor Lisa Wagner argued Tuesday that Bauschman's allegations had been proved baseless. She said he failed a lie detector test Thursday and the next day admitted he had lied about Allinger's death because he was upset about what Plank was saying about him in the community and in court.
Bauschman initially told investigators with the prosecutor's office that Plank told him she struck Allinger in the face with a 14-inch-long plywood paddle which the mother used to discipline her three daughters. Bauschman claimed Plank said she stuffed cloth in the girl's mouth to keep her from crying out.
Allinger's body was found beneath carpeting near her Lakewood home two weeks after she disappeared July 4, 1996. An autopsy showed she had a broken jaw and a pair of underwear stuffed down her throat. That same autopsy showed vaginal damage but no sperm on her body.
Prosecutor Wagner said Plank had taken lie detector tests about the girl's killing, but Wagner contended the test results were invalid.
While Leatherman took his case for a continuance to the higher court, Strombom ordered the case to proceed to final arguments Tuesday.
In those arguments, Pierce County deputy prosecutor Barbara Corey-Boulet said Rasmussen's escalating criminal conduct, the seriousness of the crimes he is convicted of and his lack of remorse dictate the need for the death penalty.
She told jurors they should show the defendant the same mercy he had shown his 9-year-old victim.
"He wrapped her up like a piece of garbage, like a piece of trash, and went on his holiday at Rainbow Valley," she said.
Corey-Boulet argued that testimony about Rasmussen's good deeds provided little argument against imposing the death penalty.
"The fact that the defendant pushed cars out of the mud or helped rebuild a church when he was 11 years old simply aren't relevant," she said. "The defendant is a menace, a monster, ladies and gentlemen."
But defense attorney Linda Sullivan told jurors there is no question her client will be adequately punished. If jurors can't agree unanimously on the death penalty, Rasmussen will serve life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Sullivan urged the jury to be merciful not only to Rasmussen but to his mother and sister, who she said would suffer greatly if he were executed. Rasmussen's mother, Janet Vickerman, wept while she listened to the closing arguments.
Sullivan acknowledged Rasmussen wasn't "the greatest guy in the world" but argued that his crimes did not justify the death penalty.
Though Rasmussen had been convicted of a rape in 1982, he had committed only misdemeanors in the 14 years between that time and Allinger's death, she said.
"This is the time to punish," she said, "but not the time to kill."
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* Staff writer John Gillie covers courts in Pierce County. Reach him at 253-597-8663 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org