From The Oregonian
Detective testifies DNA evidence shelved
A witness in the Ladon Stephens trial says evidence from a 1997 assault sat unprocessed for five years
A detective who investigated the February 1997 sexual assault of a 14-year-old girl in Northeast Portland testified in court Tuesday that, at the time, he didn't quite believe the girl was giving him a full account of what occurred that night.
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Multnomah County prosecutor Rod Underhill called Frank Klejmont, a retired Portland police detective who is now director of security for Portland Public Schools, to the witness stand during the second day of Ladon A. Stephens' trial.
Stephens, 35, faces 31 counts of aggravated murder, kidnapping, rape and sodomy charges in the December 2001 killing of 14-year-old Melissa Bittler, three 1997 rapes of 14- and 15-year-old girls in North and Northeast Portland, and the April 2002 rape of his girlfriend's cousin. DNA evidence has tied him to four of the five crimes.
Underhill briefly questioned Klejmont to establish that he was the "custodian" in charge of the DNA evidence from the assault. Klejmont said he interviewed the 14-year-old girl at Legacy Emanuel Hospital & Health Center that night, Feb. 9, 1997, and obtained from a nurse the rape kit containing evidence from the assault. Klejmont said he placed it in Central Precinct's property evidence room.
Stephens' defense attorney, Jane Claus, questioned Klejmont further.
"Any particular reason it went straight to the property room as opposed to the crime lab?" Claus said.
"No specific reason," Klejmont said.
Claus asked the retired detective to review his 1997 police report on the sexual assault. She asked whether the detective thought the 14-year-old victim wasn't telling the entire story.
"Yes," Klejmont said.
Claus asked why.
"Well, she was young. She was almost 15. . . . I felt there may be more to this story than I was getting at this time," Klejmont said.
Responding to Claus' questions, Klejmont said he questioned the teenage girl about her prior sexual encounters, and her boyfriend, whose home she had visited earlier that night.
On Tuesday, the victim of that sexual assault, now 21, hesitantly took the witness stand, grasping a red rubber stress-relief ball. She described how a man attacked her while she was walking from her boyfriend's home to catch a bus.
Two blocks from the bus stop in the 1500 block of Northeast Liberty Street, she noticed a man walking behind her. She said she purposely crossed the street to walk on the other side. He crossed, too. She then crossed back, and he followed.
She said he rushed up behind her, grabbed her around the neck and dragged her to a rear yard of an abandoned home. He made her get on her knees and had her perform oral sex while he directed her, she said. She said he forced her to turn around, began choking her and she passed out. When she awoke, he was on top of her.
In court, she said she recognized Stephens' voice. But she could not identify him as the man who raped her.
"Is it fair to say that you can't say with absolute certainty, Mr. Stephens is the person?" Claus said.
"I don't know," the woman said.
Her 1997 rape kit was not examined by the state crime lab until five years later. It wasn't until early 2002, a couple of months after the 2001 sexual assault and killing of Bittler, that police looked back at 10 years' worth of unsolved rape cases and submitted the five-year-old rape kit to the state crime lab.
The prosecutor intends to show that in 2002, DNA evidence from her assault linked Stephens to the crime. The DNA evidence also linked her assault to a Feb. 27, 1997, rape of a 15-year-old Roosevelt High School student and the Nov. 5, 1997, sexual assault of a 14-year-old Jefferson High student.