When the time came for Elizabeth Rumsey to testify in the Christopher Erin Rogers murder trial Wednesday, she left a group of girlfriends in the gallery, walked up to the witness stand, hooked her hair behind her ears and settled down to business. For a woman revisiting the night a stranger tried to kill her, she was remarkably upbeat.
Prosecutors say Rogers is that stranger. His defense attorney says it was somebody else.
Rogers has already been convicted for the first part of a murderous rampage that began in Palmer early the morning of Dec. 2, 2007. He started the day by hacking his father to death with a machete, and coming close to killing his father's fiancee the same way, plus taking a whack or two at the family dog. That trial ended in December.
This one, under way in Anchorage Superior Court, deals with what happened next, when police say Rogers took his killing binge on the road to Anchorage and shot three people, murdering college student Jason Wenger and seriously injuring two other people.
Rumsey, 33 at the time, was working as a law clerk for the Alaska Supreme Court. She was a senior instructor for the National Outdoor Leadership School and had led climbs up Mount McKinley. The day before she was shot, she won the Wilderness Woman contest in Talkeetna.
Only recently, more than a year later, has she finally been able to run the distances she did before she was shot, she said. But her right hip hurts when she runs, and that's not even the one with a bullet still in it.
In court Wednesday, both sides wanted to know what she remembered about what happened and who did it.
Quite a bit, before she was shot, they learned. Not much after.
Around 7:15 that evening, Rumsey told jurors, she was walking home from a Spenard movie theater, chatting with a friend on her cell phone when a tall, thin guy popped out of nowhere, leaned into her space and asked for the time. She gave him an approximate time. She may have picked up her pace a little, she said. She may have even been a little bit rude.
The man "unnerved" her, she said. He gave her the creeps.
A few minutes later, she heard a gunshot, felt pain and knew she'd been shot. Then she was shot again and again, all from behind. Three bullets, four shots, she remembers. From the witness stand, she pointed to the spots in her back and buttocks where she'd been hit.
As she fell to the ground, her cell phone went flying, landing a few feet away. But she and her friend were still connected so she shouted for her to call the police.
From that point forward, things get considerably more sketchy. She remembers seeing somebody standing in a doorway. Then several people starting to come to her aid. She remembers them asking if the shooter was still out there. She didn't know.
Rumsey doesn't remember much at all after that. Not the officer who interviewed her. Not giving him a description that the defense says doesn't match the man on trial.
"I don't have a strong memory of that conversation," she said.
She was sorry she didn't remember more.
Rumsey's testimony was followed by the Spenard neighbor who discovered Jason Wenger's body. Brian Spindler, who lived across the street, told the jury he heard the killing shots, that maybe two hours later as he was walking his dog, he realized something wasn't right. There was glass in the driveway and Wenger's Bronco had been idling way too long.
He told the jury he got just close enough to know he needed to back off and call police.
The trial continues today.
Find Debra McKinney online at adn.com/contact/dmckinney or call 257-4465.
By DEBRA McKINNEY
Alaska Dispatch Publishing