News Tribune

Published: 02-20-99

Category: Front Page

Page: A1

Keywords: Local/State, Verdict/Decision, Crime, Murder, Rape, Death, Child/Children, Pierce County, Court, Capital punishment, Law/Legal, Sentencing

Image: COLOR PHOTO: When sentenced March 9, Guy Rasmussen will get life in prison with no parole.

COLOR PHOTO: Cynthia Allinger's body was found July 4, 1996, two weeks after she disappeared.

COLOR PHOTO / Russ Carmack/The News Tribune: Guy Rasmussen sits quietly at the defense table in Pierce County Superior Court on Friday after hearing the jury's verdict that will assure he spends the rest of his life in prison. His mother and other family members expressed relief he will not receive the death penalty. (A14)

Byline: John Gillie; The News Tribune ; Staff writer Hector Castro contributed to this report

Two jurors' votes Friday spared convicted child killer Guy Rasmussen from execution.

The two votes against the death penalty mean the 32-year-old former rock musician will be sentenced March 9 to life in prison without the possibility of parole for the slaying of 9-year-old Cynthia Allinger.

Those convicted of aggravated first-degree murder, like Rasmussen, automatically face a life sentence unless all 12 jurors in their trials vote for the death penalty.

The same jury convicted Rasmussen on Jan. 28 of the 1996 kidnapping, rape and murder of Allinger.

Pierce County Superior Court Judge Karen Strombom read the jury's decision about 2:40 p.m., bringing instant relief to the defendant and his relatives and friends gathered in court.

Rasmussen, dressed in a multicolored sweater and wearing the rimless glasses he added to his wardrobe during the trial, put his arm around the shoulder of his defense counsel, Linda Sullivan. He was smiling as he left the courtroom.

"Thank God," exclaimed Rasmussen's mother, Janet Vickerman, when she heard the verdict. Vickerman hugged her daughter, Chandra Rasmussen, after she heard the decision.

"I thank the Lord above and I thank Jesus and I thank the jury," she said after the judge left the bench. "I believe in my son's innocence, and I believe that in time God will reveal the truth."

Allinger's mother, Rhonda Plank, said she became sick when she learned of the verdict. Plank is now living out of state.

"It's really disgusting," she said. "It was really hard not to cry."

While Plank said she is glad Rasmussen will not be allowed out of prison, she had hoped he would be put to death.

"I just keep thinking about Cyndi," she said. "The way she had to die was scary and painful for her, and what he's getting is nothing."

Plank's sister, Laurie Fiedler, said the verdict is unfair to her niece.

"Cyndi was cheated out of a long life, and he gets the rest of his life," she said. "He still gets to have his family see him and his friends. My sister will never have that chance again with Cyndi."

Detectives found Allinger's body hidden in a pile of discarded carpet near an abandoned Lakewood house some two weeks after her July 4, 1996, disappearance.

An autopsy showed the child either choked to death on underwear stuffed down her throat or died from a blow to the head that broke her jaw. Her vagina showed major injuries. Rasmussen's defense lawyers maintained he couldn't have committed the murder because he had a strong alibi for the time when she was killed. Prosecutors said bloodstains on Rasmussen's clothes tied him to the killing.

Most jurors spent an hour or so after the verdict closeted with attorneys discussing the lengthy proceedings. Only one spoke as he left the courtroom. Juror Rod Gratzer said he voted for the death penalty.

"I feel he did it, and I feel he should have paid the price for what he did," Gratzer said.

Juror Rick Little, in a letter to The News Tribune delivered after the verdict, praised fellow jurors for their dedication and commitment.

"I firmly believe that the state, the court, defense counsel, Guy Rasmussen and all of the family and individuals impacted by this trial could not have asked for or assembled a more dedicated group of citizens," he wrote.

Deputy prosecutor Barbara Corey-Boulet said she believed the jury carefully considered its decision. "We respect the verdict of the jury," she said. "They obviously worked hard to reach their conclusion."

Corey-Boulet's boss, Pierce County Prosecutor John Ladenburg, said he was not surprised the jury didn't agree on the death penalty.

"They say seven out of 10 Americans favor the death penalty," he said, "but we have to convince 12 out of 12 to vote for it."

Ladenburg praised the work of deputy prosecutors Corey-Boulet, Lisa Wagner and Dawn Fryzek during the often-contentious five-month trial. The trial featured repeated clashes between the two legal teams and several motions for the court to impose fines on the other side's attorneys. While official figures aren't collected yet, the trial's cost easily could exceed $500,000.

Both sides imported expert witnesses from as far away as Indiana and Hawaii. The witnesses testified at length on such arcane subjects as telling the time of death based on insect infestation and the color and growth of grass beneath the carpet pile in which the body was discovered.

The Pierce County Department of Assigned Counsel, the county's public defender's office, hired Seattle death penalty defense expert Fred Leatherman to represent Rasmussen. Public defender Sullivan assisted him.

Leatherman wasn't present for either the final arguments in the trial's penalty phase or for the penalty verdict. He left the courtroom before Sullivan's final arguments Tuesday to launch what turned out to be a fruitless appeal to the Washington State Supreme Court to delay the trial because of new evidence.

He was in Florida at a legal seminar when the verdict was announced.

- - -

Staff writer Hector Castro contributed to this report.

- - -

* Staff writer John Gillie covers courts in Pierce County. Reach him at 253-597-8663 or by e-mail at jlg@p.tribnet.com.