State plans to retry Anchorage cold-case rape suspect following mistrial

Jerzy Shedlock

After two days of jury deliberations, Anchorage Superior Court Judge Philip Volland on May 22 declared a mistrial in the case against 53-year-old Anthony Dillard, who stands accused of raping a young woman in an alley behind a downtown bar in August 2007.

Assistant district attorney Jason Gist said the state intends to retry Dillard, and the second trial is set for late July.

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. But the state ended up only pursuing a single first-degree sex assault charge. The jury remained split on that charge, resulting in a mistrial.

Dillard's conviction would have been a major victory for the state and the Anchorage Police Department as the case went cold for several years, and police caught the rape suspect thanks to grant money for cold cases involving DNA evidence. They began re-examining cases in January 2009.

A sample of DNA from a vaginal swab obtained from the victim was tested for the 2007 case, and compared against a separate sample of Dillard's DNA. In two separate tests, the DNA matched Dillard's, according to Gist.

During his closing argument, delivered in May, the prosecutor began by reiterating much of what he told the jury in the state's opening statement nearly a month earlier: Dillard allegedly lured the 19-year-old victim into an alley behind The Avenue bar after the defendant said a friend was waiting for them. Once in the alley, Dillard pushed her into an alcove as an accomplice, who allegedly came up the alley in the opposite direction, held her down and Dillard raped her, according to Gist.

Gist played video of Dillard and his alleged victim walking into the alley, just as he had at the beginning of the trial.

The prosecutor said the state called two experts to the stand to explain DNA testing as well as the probability the sample from the victim contained Dillard's genetic material. He also contended a DNA expert hired by the defense was "kind of in agreement over the probability of the (DNA) match."

Despite the experts and the prosecution's consistent argument, Gist said there were issues that arose during Dillard's trial he will need to reassess. He declined to share what he thought the issues were, saying that doing so would be giving away trial strategy.

Defense attorney Natasha Norris, a private lawyer who is representing Dillard through an Office of Public Advocacy contract, shared several ideas about why she believed the case resulted in a mistrial.

"The credibility of the complaining witness is in question, and in my opinion that's why there was a deadlocked jury," Norris said. "Just because DNA is present doesn't mean that a sexual assault occurred."

According to Norris, the victim's story changed when evidence contradictory to her account of the rape emerged. Her initial account -- to a police officer, then a detective and finally to a grand jury -- was that two men approached her and lured her into the alley, Norris said, and her descriptions of those suspects didn't change until 2014.

In addition, the defense attorney said that, when asked on the stand to identify her attacker, the accuser could not identify Dillard. "I think it's safe to say that in some jurors' views the evidence didn't corroborate the state's theory; otherwise, they would've come back with a guilty verdict," Norris said.

Dillard faces another rape charge as well. When police began re-examining cold cases five years ago, Dillard's DNA matched that of a sample taken from a February 2005 incident. 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 said the case was severed from the current rape trial, but the state intends to pursue those allegations in the future.

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