Anchorage cold case heats up as rape trial begins

Jerzy Shedlock

Fifty-three-year-old Anthony Dillard sat and listened in Alaska Superior Court as a state prosecutor described a young woman who summered in Anchorage to save money for college. Dillard allegedly lured the girl to an alley behind a downtown bar and raped her as another man restrained her in August 2007.

Dillard was arrested in 2010 on two counts of first-degree sexual assault and one count of second-degree assault after DNA from the case -- which had gone cold about three years earlier -- matched his profile.

The stout man was dressed for his trial in a black suit. He rubbed his chin as Assistant District Attorney Jason Gist briefly outlined the probability of an accurate DNA sample.

A sample of DNA from a vaginal swab obtained from the victim was tested two times for the 2007 case, and compared against a separate sample of Dillard's DNA. Gist said former crime lab analyst Neil Hoff determined the defendant "could not be excluded as a source of the DNA profile. "His analysis showed that ... the profile that he was looking at, which included the victim's profile, occurs about one in 2 million times over the African-American population," Gist said.

Later, a newer test called "deduction" was performed that took the victim's genetic material out of the sample, and the statistical analysis once more found Dillard could not be ruled out and Dillard's DNA profile occurs one in 1 quintillion times -- that's the numeral one, followed by 18 zeroes -- in his race, the district attorney said.

Anchorage police caught the alleged rapist thanks to grant money for cold-cases involving DNA evidence. They began re-examining cases in January 2009. In spring of the following year, samples from the rape victim that were run through the initial test came back as a match for Dillard.

He had originally been charged with two separate rape cases. The first alleged rape, which is not being argued in the trial now playing out in an Anchorage courtroom, happened in February 2005. A woman who had been drinking was grabbed and dragged by her hair to a tent at the Fur Rendezvous Carnival near West Third Avenue and E Street. The rapist nearly choked the victim unconscious before sexually assaulting her, police said at the time.

Gist declined to comment about why Dillard is only now being tried for the 2007 incident.

The district attorney began his opening argument by reciting an Anchorage Police Department detective's initial interview with Dillard. The officer showed Dillard a photo of his alleged victim and asked if he knew the woman.

Dillard allegedly denied knowing or ever seeing her. DNA evidence will show otherwise, Gist said. He then ran through the night of the rape and the subsequent investigation:

The victim was 19 when she was raped, but she'd been drinking with some friends on the night she was assaulted by two men. After drinking growlers of beer from Glacier Brewhouse, she got separated from her friends when she rode her bike from the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail to a shop downtown to buy cigarettes.

The teen ended up in front of The Avenue, a bar on Fourth Avenue. Her friends were inside. Too young to get in, she stood outside and talked with her older acquaintances whenever they took smoke breaks. At some point, two men approached her -- a "very tall, buff" man and a "shorter, chunkier guy," Gist said, referring to Dillard. The victim had been thinking about her boyfriend. She was supposed to go pick him up at the airport, but by that time, everyone was drunk.

The taller man walked away in the direction of West Fourth Avenue and D Street. She worried aloud about her boyfriend, and Dillard allegedly claimed he'd met him. He was just around the corner, Dillard allegedly told the woman. Dillard led her to the alley behind the Panhandle Bar, propositioned her for sex and was declined, Gist said. Dillard pushed her into an alcove, and the taller man came up the alley from the opposite direction and held the alleged victim down as Dillard sexually assaulted her, Gist said.

Police never found the second, taller man, Gist said outside the courtroom.

After the assault, the woman returned to the front of The Avenue, dazed; she did not immediately tell her friends what had happened. The alleged rapists returned to the bar, too, and the woman's friend was nearly enticed into going with them to smoke marijuana in a nearby van but turned back when the boyfriend arrived unexpectedly in a cab.

She did not report the rape for two days, Gist said.

"She thought it was her fault; she believed she shouldn't have been drinking or hanging out in front of the bar," he said. "Her parents had instilled in her that everything happens for a reason."

Still, two days later, she went to Planned Parenthood because she felt sick and thought she might be pregnant. On a form, she checked "rape" as the reason for her visit. The clinic called a crisis professional, and the cops eventually showed up. An investigation ensued.

The DNA wasn't tested fast enough, and as the trail went cold the critical evidence was moved to a backlog of cases. The police department was struggling to keep up with active cases, Gist said.

Nearly three years later, the evidence was pulled from the shelf, and Dillard was arrested.

The defense argued Dillard was charged in a case of "mistaken identity."

Defense attorney Natasha Norris, a private lawyer who is representing Dillard through an Office of Public Advocacy contract, said the initial DNA analysis was done under the assumption there were only two people's material in the sample.

"The DNA sample had a third contributor, who was a male," Norris said.

Besides the other potential "third contributor," the defense attorney argued the police conducted a sloppy investigation, as they failed to follow up on leads. And the woman's description of the rapist does not fit her client, Norris said. The victim allegedly said the chunky guy was wearing all black, but video footage shows Dillard wearing a white T-shirt.

That same video also shows Dillard and the victim walking side-by-side into the downtown alley.

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