District attorney admits case was mishandled

Bonnie Roesink, the 14th Judicial district attorney, took the stand Thursday and said that a rape case may be dismissed because her office and Craig police mishandled the case.

Roesink was called to testify in a motions hearing in which public defender Sheryl Uhlmann sought to exclude evidence against her client, a former Craig man who has been charged with sexual assault, a Class 4 felony.

Much of Thursday's testimony focused on blood evidence in the case.

Prosecutors will not present blood samples collected from the alleged victim. Witnesses said the evidence was not properly stored and yielded inconsistent test results.

The 16-year-old victim said she was raped in September 2001 after her assailant drugged her.

Blood tests showed traces of a chemical that could have caused the victim to be incapacitated, but the result was a false positive, according to Uhlmann.

Two subsequent tests came back negative for the chemical, Uhlmann said. Uhlmann presented evidence that the blood was stored improperly by the Craig Police Department. The blood was stored on a shelf at room temperature in the Public Safety Center, despite a department policy that calls for blood to be refrigerated and warns that improper storage of blood evidence can result in dismissal of a case.

Chief Judge Michael O'Hara heard six hours of testimony Thursday on several motions filed by the defense.

As attorneys discussed the case before witnesses were called, O'Hara addressed the prosecution, saying, "You can't deny the scientific evidence has been in the exclusive control of the prosecution and it's all botched up."

Uhlmann is asking O'Hara to dismiss the case against her client.

High-ranking judicial and law enforcement officials, including Craig Police Chief Walt Vanatta, Lt. John Forgay, Roesink and Deputy District Attorney Dave Waite were called to testify.

Uhlmann questioned why the District Attorney's Office did not disclose a letter submitted by Craig police that asserted the case was too weak to go to trial.

The letter was written by Forgay, who supervises the department's detectives. It was approved by Vanatta.

According to excerpts from the letter, which Uhlmann read, police felt the victim may have invented the scenario to account for staying out all night on the date of the alleged incident.

Uhlmann said police referred to the case as a "no win situation," that would bring embarrassment to the judicial system and the department.

Citing a lack of physical evidence and disbelief in the victim's story, police took what they called a rare occasion to present their concerns in writing. But the prosecution didn't disclose the letter until March, and Uhlmann wants to know why.

Roesink said she did not think the letter should have made available through a legal process known as "discovery," because it was not based on facts but on the unfounded opinion of the police.

Roesink said she thinks a crime was committed, though she admitted there were problems in the investigation and the prosecution.

"It's really a shame that all these problems have happened in this case," Roesink testified. "We have done a horrendous job prosecuting this case, and the police department did a terrible job with this case."

Roesink took responsibility for the mistakes by her office and said it's a shame that justice may not be served in the case.

Forgay, who previously had been worried about a lack of physical evidence, testified that further investigation has uncovered new evidence.

The evidence, he said, was a lab test that found a substance in the victim's blood that would corroborate her story about being drugged.

"Is that the only change in the physical evidence?" Uhlmann asked.

"Yes," Forgay replied.

"Would you be surprised to learn that the lab result is a false positive?" Uhlmann asked.

"I never heard that," Forgay said.

Uhlmann said two subsequent tests confirmed there was no such substance in the blood sample.

Roesink said she only learned of the most recent lab results Thursday morning.

Amy Fitch, the chief deputy district attorney from Grand County, has been assigned to work the case. Fitch said she will present the case without the blood evidence. The victim's blood was tested for six substances, including the so-called "date rape drug," Rohypnol.

"Just because we tested for six things and they're not in the blood, that doesn't mean this girl was not drugged," Fitch told the court.

O'Hara did not rule on all of the motions Uhlmann filed, in part because an investigator from the District Attorney's Office has yet to testify.

Thursday's hearing was the second installment of a motions hearing that began April 9. O'Hara will hear more testimony and rule on the motions after the hearing concludes May 3. The case is scheduled for a five-day jury trial beginning May 24.

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