Man convicted of rape at Maritime Heritage Park

POSTED: Friday, Mar. 26, 2010


BELLINGHAM - A man is facing a life sentence in state prison after he was convicted Thursday, March 25, of raping and beating a homeless woman in Maritime Heritage Park in 2008.

A jury found Hector S. Salinas, 38, guilty of three counts of first-degree rape and one count of first-degree kidnapping.

The case was given to the Whatcom County Superior Court jury Thursday morning, and it read its verdict shortly after 2:30 p.m. The date for his sentencing hasn't been set.

The convictions count as Salinas' third strike under Washington's "Three Strikes and You're Out" law. His past convictions include first-degree robbery and second-degree assault, which are also strikes.

The woman flagged down police officers near the Prospect Street post office at about 2:00 a.m. June 30, 2008. Her face was bruised and her right eye was swollen. She told officers she had been raped by a stranger.

She gave the officers a description of the rapist and was taken to St. Joseph Hospital. An officer with a police dog arrived and began to track the suspect's path from the woman's campsite, where part of the attack occurred.

The dog followed a circuitous path but eventually picked up a stronger scent as it crossed a bridge over Whatcom Creek and went down the boardwalk toward Holly Street.

The dog led its officer to a spot underneath the Roeder Avenue bridge, where Salinas was found sleeping.

Salinas ran from the officers but was eventually arrested. His clothing and results from a rape examination the woman underwent at the hospital were sent to a Washington State Patrol Crime Lab for testing.

The results showed her DNA was on a blood spot on the sleeve of a jacket Salinas was wearing when he was arrested, and DNA matching his profile was found in the results of the rape examination.

The woman provided police with a suspect description that contained 15 items, and the physical and clothing description matched Salinas when officers arrested him, Senior Deputy Prosecutor Dona Bracke said.

Salinas' attorney, Starck Follis, countered in his closing argument that the description was not specific enough to prove Salinas was the attacker.

Furthermore, he said the woman was provided a series of photos at the hospital that included a photo of Salinas' face, and she couldn't identify him as the attacker.

In court she identified Salinas as her attacker, but Follis said that identification was highly suggestive and too unfair for the jury to give it credibility.

Bracke said the police dog began tracking harder as it neared where Salinas was sleeping, providing more evidence of his guilt.

Follis countered that the dog went off track for 13 minutes, according to police records, before crossing the creek and tracking harder. Salinas testified Wednesday that someone approached him as he was sleeping, which could have lured the dog to his site if that person was the attacker.

The crime lab's analysis showed the only DNA found on the jacket sleeve matched the victim's profile, blood on the inside of the jacket matched her profile and Salinas' profile, and semen from the results of the rape exam matched Salinas' profile.

Follis said the results were ambiguous or untrustworthy.

One crime lab scientist did testing on the jacket out of order, providing a skewed result, Follis said.

Bracke said the scientist went back, corrected the order of the tests and came to the result that matched the woman's profile.

Follis said the State Patrol's policies dictate starting the test over, which didn't happen.

The semen sample tested was too small and could have skewed the results, Follis argued.

The DNA profile contained one area of data that was ambiguous and couldn't be matched to Salinas' profile, Follis said. The lab dropped the ambiguous data and calculated the odds that a matching profile could be found in someone in the U.S. who was not Salinas.

"Is that really the solution - that if something doesn't fit you drop it?" Follis asked.

Salinas' testimony included a timeline before he was arrested early June 30. He testified he found the jeans and jacket, put them on and went to sleep at about 10 p.m.

That would have been before the rape happened. Bracke said the jacket had the blood on it when officers arrested Salinas the next morning - a contradiction that casts doubt on his entire story.

Follis said the blood could have come from an officer investigating the crime and subsequently handling the clothing seized from Salinas.

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