11-YEAR-OLD MURDER CASE WITNESS SPENT WEEKEND LOCKED UP / PROSECUTORS SAY THEY FEARED THAT HER FAMILY WAS LEAVING THE STATE
Category: Front Page
Keywords: Crime, Rape, Murder, Death, Kidnap, Child/Children, Witness, Local/State
Byline: John Gillie; The News Tribune
Just before she was to accept a "student of the month" award at Tacoma's Edison Elementary School, a Pierce County girl was detained Friday by detectives.
Though never accused of a crime, the 11-year-old spent the weekend in Remann Hall. She was released Monday morning after a court hearing.
The girl's arrest and confinement has outraged her lawyer and the defense attorneys in the aggravated murder case in which she is a material witness.
But Pierce County prosecutors said her arrest was necessary to preserve critical testimony in the case against Guy Rasmussen, accused of killing 9-year-old Cynthia Allinger.
"We had information that she and her grandmother and perhaps her mother were going to be moving out of state over the weekend," deputy prosecutor Barbara Corey-Boulet said. "We had a concern that we would lose an important witness."
The News Tribune could not reach the girl or her family for comment Tuesday.
The events began when the girl and her relatives missed a scheduled pretrial interview with lawyers Thursday afternoon.
The girl's court-appointed lawyer, Anna Woods, said that the child has always cooperated in the case and that prosecutors could have taken less drastic measures than incarceration to ensure her appearance at any later interview.
The scheduled interview Thursday was a continuation of one begun April 16 and recessed after the mother and grandmother raised strong objections to questions defense lawyers were asking.
The girl reportedly saw Rasmussen with Allinger on July 4, 1996, the day the 9-year-old disappeared.
Woods said better communications with the girl's family could have precluded her arrest. She said the family missed Thursday's interview because they had no transportation to the County-City Building.
Had investigators asked, Woods said, they would have learned that the grandmother had decided to postpone moving out of state because she was ill and needed surgery. She had that surgery Tuesday.
In any case, Woods said, the family had discussed with prosecutors flying back to testify at the trial if necessary.
Deputy prosecutor Lisa Wagner said the information prosecutors had about the family's move was vague; the family was thought to be heading for Texas or Arkansas.
Corey-Boulet said she regrets that arresting the girl was necessary.
Under terms of the warrant issued by Superior Court Judge Karen Strombom, the girl was to have been picked up and brought directly before Strombom.
Corey-Boulet said she thought the girl's time in custody would be short, because the interview with prosecutors was not expected to take long.
But detectives didn't arrest the girl until midmorning Friday, and by the time she was in Remann Hall, Strombom had left town on a scheduled appointment.
Fred Leatherman, one of Rasmussen's two lawyers, said the defense should have been involved in any request for an arrest warrant.
But prosecutors said only their side appeared before the judge to seek the warrant because the girl was a prosecution witness.
Though Remann Hall guards tried to treat the girl gently, other girls in confinement, many of them 4 or 5 years older than she, reportedly taunted her.
"She was a very frightened little girl," Woods said.
Also, Woods said, guards led her into the hearing room Monday - for the hearing she was supposed to have had before the weekend - shackled with a chain between her ankles.
At that hearing, Strombom ordered the girl released after she and her relatives promised to attend an interview in mid-June.
"That's the same result they could have achieved if they hadn't arrested her," Woods said.
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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