Defense keeps heat on police in Aspen assault case
ASPEN – Defense attorneys scrutinized the Aspen Police Department’s collection of evidence in the case of a man standing trial for sexual assault Monday, and posed questions to prosecution witnesses that suggested the alleged victim arranged to trade sex for cocaine.
The third day of testimony in the jury trial of Emanuel Gonzalez-Loujun, 22, included testimony from two Aspen police officers, Kirk Wheatley and Chris Womack, both of whom spent time with the alleged victim and the suspect, respectively, on the morning of Jan. 17, 2009. That’s when Gonzalez-Loujun, of Carbondale, is accused of kidnapping and sexually assaulting the woman three times outside of Aspen’s Centennial Apartments complex.
The trial resumes Tuesday in Pitkin County District Court, with Judge James Boyd presiding. The prosecution, led by Arnold Mordkin, has approximately six witnesses remaining before the defense makes its case to the 12-member jury.
On Monday, public defenders Tina Fang and Stephen McCrohan showed jurors a photo, taken the same morning of the alleged rape, with a closeup of the woman’s nose, which showed traces of a white substance in her left nostril. That plays into the defense’s theory, introduced in Thursday’s opening arguments, that the woman had been snorting cocaine around the time she was allegedly sexually assaulted. In testimony Friday, the accuser said she had never used cocaine in her life.
The defense was unable to draw anything conclusive from witnesses Monday about the photo.
Prosecution witness Pam Thorman, a criminalist for the Grand Junction Police Department and laboratory agent for the Colorado Bureau of Investigations (CBI), said she could not determine what the substance was by looking at the photo.
“I have no idea,” said Thorman, who tested the substances in the 14 small, Ziploc baggies police found on Gonzalez-Loujun’s person the morning of the alleged sexual assault. The substances tested positive for cocaine. The amount of cocaine in each baggy ranged from 0.7 grams to 0.95 grams, Thorman testified.
In opening arguments, Fang noted that police never took a swab sample from the alleged victim’s nostril the morning she underwent a sexual assault nurse examination at Valley View Hospital in Glenwood Springs. On Monday, Fang asked Wheatley, who was the first responder to the alleged crimes, whether he noticed signs of cocaine on the accuser’s nose. Wheatley said he didn’t.
Wheatley recalled that he spent time with the woman, who had sought refuge at a neighbor’s apartment unit.
“She said she feared for her life and was in imminent danger,” Wheatley said, acknowledging that the woman told him she offered the defendant oral sex because she was afraid of the consequences of having intercourse with him.
The woman had also said Gonzalez-Loujun told her he had a gun and threatened to shoot himself. A gun was never found.
“She said she feared for her life because of fear of the gun,” Wheatley said. He added that mascara was running down the woman’s face, her hair was wet and matted down, her tights were ripped and her knees were bloody.
Womack, who visited the alleged crime scene at the Centennial Apartments on Jan. 20, 2009, with the alleged victim, testified that he did not broach the possibility of exchanging sex for drugs with the woman.
“You never asked if she had traded sex for cocaine?” McCrohan asked Womack.
“No,” Womack replied.
“You are aware that people do that: trade sex for drugs?”
“Yes,” Womack said.
Womack’s collection of the evidence also attracted the scrutiny of the defense, who quizzed him on why a crime scene was not set up and why neighbors weren’t interviewed by police. Womack’s testimony from a hearing last July also was brought up by the defense, which offered that he contradicted himself when he testified then that photos were taken of the crime scene and logged into evidence. It turns out they weren’t. At that same hearing in July, Womack admitted as much.
It wasn’t until April 3 that photos of the scene were taken by law enforcement officials.
The defense also put the spotlight on Womack’s collection of the blood samples from the defendant. Womack sent the blood to the CBI to be tested for drugs and alcohol, as well as DNA. Womack conceded that the blood should have been sent to the state’s health department or a toxicologist for the drug and alcohol tests, as the CBI no longer performs that function.
Gonzalez-Loujun remains incarcerated in the Pitkin County jail on $250,000 bond.
Along with felony kidnapping and sexual assault charges, which carry 16 years to life in prison, he faces a police-officer assault charge for allegedly striking officer Leon Murray, the first Aspen officer to encounter Gonzalez-Loujun that morning. Murray was responding to the 911 call that a sexual assault had occurred.
After the scuffle, police allegedly found 14 bindles of cocaine on the suspect, resulting in felony drug possession and distribution charges. Later that morning, the alleged victim positively identified Gonzalez-Loujun as the rapist while he was in custody, spurring the sexual assault and kidnapping charges.
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