Attorneys rest their cases in rape, kidnap trial; Griego declines to testify

2014-04-11T20:52:00Z 2014-06-18T17:06:30Z Attorneys rest their cases in rape, kidnap trial; Griego declines to testifyBy EDDIE GREGG The Billings Gazette

After five days of testimony, prosecutors and the defense rested their cases Friday in the trial of suspected serial rapist Toby Eugene Griego, who chose not to testify.

Griego, 42, is being tried on 27 charges in connection with a string of home-invasion robberies, sexual assaults, kidnappings and an attempted sexual assault last year. Prosecutors allege he attacked four victims on Jan. 27, April 25, May 27 and July 2.

The trial will resume Monday morning at 9 a.m. with closing arguments, after which the 12-person jury will go into deliberation.

The case hinges largely on the contents of a phone police seized from Griego. Prosecutors say the phone contains photos and video of Griego in the act of attacking some of the victims.

The jury of seven women and five men watched those video clips Friday. Griego, sitting with his attorneys, state public defenders David Duke and J. Thomas Bartleson, didn’t appear to show any emotion as the clips were played.

The jurors also heard from two veteran Billings police detectives, Ken Paharik and Mike Beckers, who testified that Griego’s face can be clearly seen in one of the videos.

Paharik said he has “zero” doubt that the attacker was Griego. “The fact of the matter is Toby Griego did these crimes,” the detective said.

Griego’s attorneys never contested this week that the phone in question belongs to Griego.

That evidence is one of the few things connecting Griego to the attacks, the detectives said.

Beckers, the state’s last witness, testified that the case was extremely difficult to investigate because there was so little other evidence connecting an attacker to the series of rapes.

“In the vast, vast majority of cases I’ve worked, we’d have DNA, we might have a fingerprint, we might have an eyewitness — we had none of that,” he said.

As they have throughout the trial, Griego’s attorneys focused Friday on this lack of DNA evidence, fingerprints of any other kind of evidence linking their client or anyone to the attacks.

Paharik, Beckers and other witnesses have testified this isn’t surprising because the attacker wore gloves and a hat, raped the victims with foreign objects, forced them to bathe, cleaned the crime scenes and then stole numerous items that could have linked him to the crimes.

“We knew our suspect was highly intelligent, methodical, thorough,” Beckers said.

If the attacker wasn’t smart, he would have made a mistake and left behind some of those kinds of evidence, the detective said.

“And what mistake did he make? What did you find tying him to the crimes?” asked Chief Deputy Yellowstone County Attorney Juli M. Pierce.

Beckers said there were footprints matching Griego’s shoes outside the residence of the third victim. He also mentioned a recording of Griego’s voice that the fourth victim used to identify Griego as her attacker.

“And more than anything, that cellphone,” he said.

“And all the images and videos of the rapes on the phone?” Pierce said, asking the last of hundreds of questions she’s asked during witness examination this week.

“Yes,” Beckers said. “We got it right.”

“Thank you, no further questions,” the prosecutor said.

Beckers stepped down from the witness stand.

“The state rests, you honor,” Pierce said to presiding Judge Russell C. Fagg, who then asked Griego’s attorneys if they had any witnesses.

“Your honor, we have no witnesses,” Duke said, with Griego sitting next to him. “The defense rests.”

Duke said Griego is aware of his right to testify, but chose not to.

The state presented more than 350 exhibits this week and called 30 witnesses, including the four victims, five Billings police detectives and two of Griego’s ex-girlfriends.

All four victims testified they woke to a man in their bedrooms. They all said they were bound, gagged and blindfolded. One of the women, who was attacked on April 25, testified she was able to fend off her attacker. The other three victims said they were raped repeatedly with foreign objects and forced to shower or bathe.

The victims in the last two attacks said they were taken to ATMs at banks in Billings and forced to make transactions and then taken back to their homes and raped again.

Detectives Paharik and Beckers testified they linked the attacks together after the May 27 attack, when they realized the rapes appeared to have been committed by the same person.

“We knew we had the same perpetrator ... it was frightening. It was daunting,” he said, adding that he never thought he would see a serial rapist case in Billings.

Both detectives said they have never investigated a serial rape case before.

Chief Deputy Yellowstone County Attorney Rod Souza characterized the case as a “whodunit” case because of the lack of evidence early in the investigation linking to any suspect.

“A typical whodunit or identity case is often perpetrated on TV and movies for purposes of entertainment,” Souza said, during his examination of detective Paharik. “But in your experience is a whodunit case actually very rare?"

“Yes, it is rare,” Paharik said, explaining that he would guess less than 10 percent of cases are whodunit investigations.

“First of all, rarely do I see this,” the detective continued. “Rarely do I see a serial rapist, and rarely do I see a serial rapist who actually videotapes himself on the phone. So this is all new ground.”

The detectives testified that Griego became a suspect after a Crimestoppers tip in July 2013 indicated a man, quickly identified as Griego, had followed a woman shopping at Hobby Lobby in Billings.

Police put him under surveillance and got a court order to put a tracker on his car, the detectives said.

Both detectives testified they observed Griego following women, often younger women with blond hair, at businesses and parks in Billings.

Paharik said there is “no question" Griego is one of the most difficult offenders he’s ever put under surveillance. The detective said Griego often wore gloves as he followed women, and would go to great lengths to avoid being tailed.

The detectives said they executed search warrants at Griego’s home, on his car and other locations on Aug. 22, which is when they seized his phone.

Beckers said Griego confirmed the phone was his.

The phone was immediately turned over to Billings Police detective Jim Woog, who testified earlier this week that early on Aug. 23 he extracted a deleted, time-stamped image of the woman attacked on May 27.

Officers arrested Griego later that day.

The state will have 70 minutes to make closing arguments when the trial resumes Monday morning.

Judge Fagg has told the jury they should expect to go into deliberation late Monday morning. They are tasked with reaching a unanimous verdict of guilty or not guilty on each of the 27 counts Griego faces.

Court records indicate that if convicted of the rape, kidnapping or robbery charges, Griego faces a mandatory sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole because of his criminal history in New Mexico, which includes the rape of a 16-year-old girl.

Copyright 2014 The Billings Gazette. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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