Edmonds beach assault case goes to the jury

Defense attorney Emily Hiskes questions nurse Jennifer Newmarch about her examination of the victim in the Swedish Edmonds emergency room immediately following the attack.

Updated 1-24-2017 to reflect accurate sentencing range figures.

With testimony and closing arguments complete, the fate of 59-year-old Charles F. Fisher of Edmonds is in the hands of a five-woman seven-man Snohomish County Superior Court jury who will decide whether he is guilty of attempted rape and murder in the June 2016 attack on an Edmonds woman on a deserted section of beach south of the Edmonds dog park.

The five-day trial included testimony by police, witnesses, medical personnel, family members and the alleged victim. The defense team called no witnesses; Fisher did not take the stand in his own defense.

The final witness called by the prosecutor on Friday was Jennifer Newmarch, the SANE (Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner) nurse who took DNA samples and conducted a “head to toe” examination of the victim in the Swedish Edmonds emergency room immediately after the attack. She testified that she collected DNA from fingernail scrapings, mouth samples, skin swatches and the victim’s clothing.

Testimony last week established that these DNA samples were a match for Fisher, and that samples taken from Fisher matched the victim.

This concluded the case by the prosecutor. The defense chose to not present a case, and Judge George Bowden then called for closing statements from both sides.

Prosecutor Matthew Baldock began by setting the scene for the jury of a woman going to a particular section of beach, a personal place where she finds peace and renewal, and in the midst of her walk is brutally attacked by a stranger. She was thrown to the ground, beaten “within an inch of her life,” and told she was about to be murdered, Baldock said.

In reviewing the evidence presented over the trial, Baldock reminded the jury of the undisputed facts in the case: when and where it occurred, that there was physical contact between Fisher and the victim, that the victim sustained substantial injury, and that Fisher left the scene “in some haste and sought cover on the hillside.”

He went on to tell the jury that the “who” in this instance is beyond dispute. Calling efforts by the defense to cast doubt on this as a “red herring,” Baldock cited Fisher’s statements following his apprehension, the victim’s visual identification of him as her attacker, and the DNA evidence linking the two as strong proof that Fisher perpetrated the attack.

Moving on to the victim’s more than two hours of testimony, Baldock reviewed with the jury the various pieces of evidence corroborating her account, including bruises, scratches, a bloody eye, neck injuries consistent with being throttled, puncture wounds,  and lacerations to the knee. The prosecutor characterized the victim’s testimony as that of “a woman who is still processing the trauma of what happened,” and how these memories “recycled through her head” while on the stand. He reminded the jury how she recalled “the blue in his eyes and the chill in his voice when he said ‘goodbye,’ how her mind flashed on how awful it would be for her husband and children to find her body floating in the Sound, how embarrassed she would be for them to sort through the clutter in her room, and how family and friends had warned her about walking on the beach alone.”

He also reminded the jury of Jeff and Emily Hovde’s testimony regarding the victim’s condition and emotional state as she ran toward them immediately following the attack, the account of the examining emergency room physician Dr. Gregg Miller, and the victim’s own journal of the event from her very personal perspective — an account Baldock described as “full of grit, frustration, anger, hurt and power.”

Regarding any suggestion that the victim could be making it all up, Baldock pointedly asked the jury why anyone would fabricate such a story. “Why accuse a person you don’t even know of such a horrible act?” he asked. “There’s no question of anything to be gained, financial or otherwise. The answer is that there is simply no reason to make this up.”

Moving to the actual charges and the issue of intent, Baldock walked the jury through the question of whether Fisher might have actually been stalking the victim that day, and arranged his walk down the beach to make contact with her in a deserted spot. “Was she unknowingly walking into a trap that day?” he asked. But regardless, the intent was made clear by statements like “I want to f*** you,” and “I’ve changed my mind. I’m going to kill you. I’m going to drown you.” Baldock characterized these as “clear evidence of intent, the clearest you can expect.”

Baldock ended his summation by telling the jury, “About what happened there can be no doubt. The only verdict supported by the evidence is guilty on both counts.”

The defense’s closing statement centered on what is true, what is not true, and what is unexplainable.

Utilizing a flip chart, defense attorney Paul Thompson first listed the various pieces of evidence that are not in dispute. “We know there were two people on the beach, that the victim and Mr. Fisher had contact (the DNA proves it), that the victim was injured while on the beach, and that it was a busy day with lots of beach visitors,” he said, adding that it is “strange” that someone would plan such a crime on a busy beach day.

He then proceeded to enumerate testimony that is not true, citing the victim’s account of being hit “more than 100 times in the head” as being totally at odds with the photographic evidence, and that the “four bumps on the victim’s head” that the victim indicated might have been from a rock or blunt instrument were not noticed by the SANE nurse in her examination immediately following the attack.

Moving on to what Thompson characterized as the unexplainable, he called into question what the victim described as “rest periods” during the attack, when it would become less intense while presumably the attacker caught his breath for a few seconds. He also questioned the timing and “how this all could have occurred in such a short time frame.”

Summing up, Thompson told the jury that “saying ‘I want to f*** you” and then hitting you is “not enough” to meet the test for attempted second-degree rape, and that attempted first-degree murder requires a point in time at which the decision to kill is made. He went on to say that the victim’s account does not provide this, that the victim was clearly “not hit 100 times,” that there were “no four bumps” on the victim’s head, and that it therefore follows that she was not hit by a rock or blunt object as she testified.

“Since we know some of the victim’s account is untrue, you need to think about what other parts may be untrue,” Thompson said. He asked the jury to return a verdict of not guilty on all charges, saying that “while we know they had contact, everything else is unproven.”

In his rebuttal, Baldock reminded the jury of the incredible stress the victim was under subsequent to the attack, and that while this understandably affected her ability to recall to the level of precision sought by the defense, “the momentum of evidence pushes it beyond a reasonable doubt.”

Characterizing the defense’s questions about such things as the number of times she was struck as “classically designed no-win questions,” he suggested to the jury that counting the number of times you’re hit during an attack is not something that anyone would really do and that to ask such a question is “ridiculous.”

Attributing the victim’s lack of more serious injuries to the fact that she fought back, Baldock reminded the jury how she “pushed back, blocked blows with her arms, flailed her arms, and held him close so he couldn’t get in position to land powerful blows,” and suggested that saying her injuries weren’t serious enough amounts to “penalizing her for fighting back.” He also recalled the testimony of ER physician Dr. Miller, who testified that in his professional opinion her injuries were consistent with her story.

“I urge you to look at the big picture, of a woman who despite being in absolute terror survived a vicious, life-threatening attack,” he concluded. “Now is the time for the defendant to answer for his actions.”

With closing arguments complete, Judge Bowden directed the bailiff to choose a random juror as the alternate, which left the question of Charles Fisher’s guilt or innocence in the hands of seven men and five women.

According to the Washington State Adult Sentencing Guidelines, if convicted on both counts Fisher could face between 16 and 22 years in prison.

— Story and photo by Larry Vogel


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