The distinct smell of smoke filled the courtroom Friday afternoon when St. Paul homicide detective Bryant Gaden took the witness stand and pulled a soot-covered smoke detector and a charred lump of plastic that had once been a shower curtain from brown paper sacks.
A blood-stained comforter, blood-saturated pillow and blow dryer stayed enclosed in clear-plastic bags.
Jurors in the Gari L. Stewart trial in Ramsey County District Court had seen photographs of the evidence earlier in this week, but several recoiled slightly when prosecutor Dawn R. Bakst put the items right in front of them.
Stewart, 28, of Robbinsdale, is accused of entering a first-floor apartment at 696 Grand Av. in St. Paul in the early morning of June 15, 2007, stabbing a man, raping a woman, setting the apartment on fire and abducting the woman. He allegedly made her withdraw cash from her bank account and rent him a car before setting her free at a hospital.
He is charged with first- and second-degree attempted murder, first-degree criminal sexual conduct, first-degree arson, first-degree burglary and kidnapping.
Stewart allegedly tied the male victim's hands with the blow dryer cord and wrapped his head, arms and torso in the shower curtain. The male victim lay unconscious on the comforter and pillow before he awoke to find the apartment on fire and staggered to his brother's apartment next door.
According to testimony Friday, investigators followed Stewart's movements throughout the day on June 15 by tracking where the female victim's Wells Fargo check card was used, and he was arrested in a Bloomington hotel room that he had rented with that card about 18 hours after authorities learned of the crime.
Sgt. Tim McCarty had tracked the female victim's cell phone to the University of Minnesota area. When he learned the woman was in the emergency room at the University of Minnesota Hospital-Fairview, he went there and asked her "some basic questions," he testified Friday.
Meanwhile, Jodell Millard Carlson, an investigator at Wells Fargo, used something she called "FDR or Fast Data Resource," to quickly track usage on the female victim's card and relayed that information to McCarty. The card had been used at a BP gas station in St. Paul, then at the Radisson Hotel at the U. It was used at Avis car rental in downtown Minneapolis at 8:29 a.m., then not until 4:20 p.m. at an Oasis Market gas station in Hopkins. It was used again at stations in St. Louis Park and Edina. About 6 p.m., it was used at a Holiday Station Store at the Mall of America in Bloomington. Police obtained video from the station in Edina and from the Mall of America that showed Stewart trying to use the card at ATM machines.
Marsal Ahmed and Felix Vaah, both of whom worked at the Avis, identified Stewart in court as the man who had come in with a petite woman to rent a car the morning of June 15, 2007. Both Vaah and George Rector, a shuttle driver who was there that morning, said they saw a knife in Stewart's back pocket.
Carlson continued to track the check card usage into the night. At 12:08 a.m. on June 16, she learned it was used at the Ramada Inn in Bloomington. She called McCarty, who sent a uniformed officer to the hotel to see if the rental car was in the parking lot. It was.
McCarty then formed a small team of officers and went to the hotel. When they got no answer after knocking on the door of Room 203, they entered with a key card they'd gotten from the front desk manager. Stewart was standing at the foot of the bed.
Sgt. Janet Dunnom, who became the lead investigator on the case, said she interviewed the female victim "for hours" on June 15. What was her demeanor? Bakst asked.
"Partially exhausted," Dunnom said. "Scared but very articulate, at times hysterical when we got to the specifics of what happened to her and to [her boyfriend]."
The next day, Dunnom showed the female victim a photo lineup. She identified Stewart as her attacker and abductor and said she was "100 percent positive," Dunnom said.
Sgt. Gaden showed the male victim a photo lineup at Regions Hospital in St. Paul. He also was "100 percent certain" that it was Stewart who stabbed him.
On Thursday, Andrea Feia, a forensic scientist for the state Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, said she tested DNA samples collected from the female victim by a sexual assault nurse examiner and found that neither the woman nor Stewart could be excluded from the sample, but that 98 percent of the world's population could be excluded.
The word "match," she said, is only used for a single-source sample. The sample she tested was a mixture from two individuals, she said.
The trial will resume Tuesday. Prosecutors are expected to rest their case that morning. Stewart has chosen not to testify on his own behalf, defense attorney John Riemer told District Judge M. Michael Monahan. It was unclear Friday whether Riemer would call any witnesses.
Pat Pheifer • 612-741-4992