1980s victims testify in Kansas City serial rape trial

Kansas City StarJuly 12, 2011 

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Gripping testimony from two 1983 sexual assault survivors marked the first day Monday of the Kansas City serial rape trial in Jackson County Circuit Court.

But not a word of it implicated the man on trial, Bernard Jackson, 53, who is accused of four rapes of women who lived alone in the Waldo neighborhood of Kansas City in 1983 and 1984. Both women who testified Monday acknowledged under questioning that they could not identify Jackson as their attacker.

Prosecutors told jurors Monday that they would hear critical evidence — DNA evidence identifying Jackson to a mind-boggling certainty — later this week.

But on Monday, Jackson and the jurors heard his alleged victims recount in painful detail the horror of their assaults almost 28 years ago. They gave similar testimony of how they were attacked in their homes.

Throughout their testimony, Jackson sat quiet and still, occasionally raising his eyes to the witness, but otherwise turning his head down slightly to the defense table in front of him.

Police arrested Jackson, a suspect in a string of more recent sexual assaults in the Waldo area, in May 2010 after testing determined that his DNA matched that of biological evidence in the 1983-84 attacks. He also has been charged for two of those recent assaults, but will stand trial for them later.

Both women who testified Monday recalled being awakened early in the morning by a shadowy figure entering their darkened bedrooms. Both were blindfolded, bound and raped after the intruder ransacked their homes for valuables.

The survivor of a July 30, 1983, rape told jurors she first saw her attacker early that morning.

"I saw a man crawling on the floor, coming from the living room into the bedroom," she said. "I screamed and he jumped on top of me and put his hand over my mouth."

Her voice quavering, the woman described how her attacker bound, blindfolded and then twice raped her.

"I was just so scared," she said. "I feared for my life. I'd never been through that. I didn't grow up that way."

Under cross-examination, the woman acknowledged that she never has been able to identify her attacker and even once rebuffed an interview with a police officer months after the attack, saying she was busy at work and needed to get on with her life.

A second woman, who was assaulted just before Halloween 1983, recalled waking up after returning from a party to her home. She said she saw a dark silhouette in her bedroom doorway. At first, she wondered if it was a friend who occasionally stopped by her house.

"The first thing I said was, 'Larry, is that you?'" she told jurors. "There was no response. ... Very quickly he was at my bed with a gun at the back of my neck."

She, too, was bound and blindfolded. The woman said she responded by speaking with the intruder, until he gagged her. "I tried to talk to him, until he hit me," she testified. "He told me to shut up."

The intruder plundered her purse and jewelry box and then tried to rape her on a living room sofa, the woman testified. After she resisted, he put her on the floor, hands tied behind her back, and raped her there.

Like the first woman, the second acknowledged under cross-examination that she could not identify her attacker because he deliberately hid his face and then blindfolded her.

Both women suffered from fears and nightmares for months after the assaults.

Though the experiences remained vivid for the women, the passage of time had dimmed the recollection of others who testified Monday. A doctor, a nurse and a former police office all had to rely on decades-old notes and reports to testify as to what they did in the subsequent investigations.

Some acknowledged that they had no real recollection of the events at all.

In opening statements, lawyers laid out the evidence and suggested how jurors should view it.

Assistant Jackson County Prosecutor Ted Hunt told jurors they would see convincing DNA evidence from each of the four cases, establishing Jackson as the rapist. Only one in 143 quadrillion people would have that DNA sequence, investigators say.

Defense lawyer Carie Allen said that her case would focus not on the women who were assaulted, but on the procedures and storage of the DNA evidence in the years since the assault.

"Crime labs do mess things up," Allen said. "They might not want to admit it, but they will say they are human. Crime lab mistakes lead to innocent people being convicted of horrific, horrific things."

The trial will resume Tuesday morning.

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