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Jury begins deliberations in sexual assault trial, breaks for weekend

Jury begins deliberations in sexual assault trial, breaks for weekend

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Donald Howard McElfish must wait until next week to learn his fate — the jury in his sexual assault case didn’t reach a verdict after more than four hours of deliberation Friday

Prosecutors says McElfish’s friend Brandt Jensen ordered a woman to strip on Oct. 5, 2012, and then taped her to a chair naked, telling her she’d have to have sex with McElfish and two others to pay off a debt. She broke free when left alone with McElfish, she testified, and then ran for her life through the woods and across a river before breaking into a house and hiding. The owner later found her in a closet, clad only in a nightgown she’s found inside and called 911. (The Daily New is not identifying the woman in accordance with the paper’s sexual assault victim policy.)

McElfish, 63, is charged with first-degree attempted rape, indecent liberties with forcible compulsion, first-degree kidnapping and second-degree assault with sexual motivation. Jensen pleaded guilty to lesser charges in return for testifying at McElfish’s trial.

Defense lawyer Richard Suryan argued Friday that the whole case is based on fabrications by three women — the alleged victim and two witnesses — with axes to grind against several of the people involved. He repeatedly told jurors their stories don’t add up and don’t make sense.

“You don’t know what really happened that night,” he said during closing arguments.

He suggested it was possible that the kidnap and rape reports were a ruse made to cover up a burglary the women planned at the house where the alleged victim was found. He noted the closet she was found in also is where the homeowner keeps the safe.

He also said the alleged victim’s statements hadn’t always been consistent on certain details and reminded jurors that neither she nor her two friends ever called 911.

Deputy Prosecutor Amie Hunter, though, said there’s no evidence of some grand burglary conspiracy. Instead, she told jurors this is a case of intimidation, terror and, ultimately, survival.

Hunter said the victim remains terrified to this day, adding she certainly looked scared in crime-scene photos. And, Hunter said, the woman’s lack of clothes is key to the case.

“She’s begging and pleading ‘Don’t do this, don’t do this,’ and then she screams for help,” Hunter said. “And then she ran naked — naked — through the woods. What person does that if not (looking) for help?”

As for inconsistencies in statements, Hunter said the victim was always clear she’d been taped naked to a chair, threatened and groped.

The 43-year-old alleged victim in this case made headlines of her own when prosecutors had her arrested for one night last month as a “material witness” to ensure she’d show up for meetings and court.

The jury resumes deliberations Monday morning.

Barbara LaBoe covers courts and law enforcement for The Daily News. Reach her at 360-577-2539 or blaboe@tdn.com.

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