Trial to begin for Sterling woman charged with sex assault

KENAI — A judge has denied a request by the attorney of a Sterling woman charged with sexually assaulting a 14-year-old boy to dismiss the case and suppress the state’s DNA evidence.

The decision by Kenai Superior Court Judge Carl Bauman on Monday allows the trial for 52-year-old Laurel Lee to begin Tuesday with jury selection. She is charged with first-degree sexual assault, kidnapping and second-degree sexual abuse in connection with the October 2014 incident.

Alaska State Troopers said she pulled the boy off his bicycle, forced him into the woods off the Sterling Highway and sexually assaulted him, The Peninsula Clarion reported (http://bit.ly/1TFJi1r).

Dina Cale, Lee’s attorney, had argued that the Alaska State Crime Lab violated her client’s right to due process by making it impossible for DNA samples of the alleged victim to be tested for the presence of saliva by using the material from all six testing swabs. She said the saliva test would have helped prove Lee was the one who was sexually assaulted.

However, Bauman rejected the defense’s claims.

“I don’t see that the state crime lab person violated standard operating procedures,” Bauman said.

Sara Graziano, a forensic scientist from the state crime lab, testified her decision to use of all the swab material was based on wanting to get a DNA profile that would be useful in the case. She said the lab does not automatically test for the presence of saliva because there is no way to determine whether the sample came from saliva or another source that contains amylase, an enzyme also found in breast milk or vaginal fluid.

Grazaiano added that she had preserved DNA extract that could be used by a different lab to verify her results.

Assistant District Attorney Kelly Lawson said procedures for handling evidence at the crime lab place an emphasis on saving materials when possible, but that they also emphasize getting the most accurate results.

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