By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter
CHEHALIS – A Lewis County rape trial that has been repeatedly postponed because of illnesses involving the defendant, the victim and even a judge faces yet another test.
Doctors say the stress of facing in court the man she says violently raped her and otherwise physically abused her during their short marriage could trigger another heart attack for the victim.
Lewis County Deputy Prosecutor Joely O’Rourke told a judge today the victim has an ongoing coronary condition, has had a quadruple bypass and has 28 “stents”. She recently had a heart attack, according to the prosecutor.
O’Rourke said she’s been in close contact with the woman’s treating physician and cardiologist.
“Both have highly advised against her testifying at all,” O’Rourke said.
The prosecutor’s comments came during a hearing today in which she requested the woman be allowed to testify via video, specifically using Skype on a 70-inch screen which would be present in the courtroom.
O’Rourke described how when Leo B. Bunker’s first trial began in January, the victim had so much anxiety, she broke down sobbing and had to be picked her up off the floor.
“I know its unprecedented, but I think we have the technology,” she told the judge. “I think if there ever was a case to do something like this, this is it.”
Judge James Lawler denied the motion, but called it an unusual situation.
“Her condition doesn’t make it impossible for her testify, but that it would be stressful,” Lawler said. “Given that, I can’t find she’s unavailable.”
“It will be uncomfortable, it is for every victim that has to come in to testify,” he said.
The trial is scheduled to begin next week.
Bunker, 53, of Winlock, has been locked up for about a year and half awaiting trial.
He was charged in December 2011.
The victim contacted law enforcement about a month earlier, describing how she’d recently reconnected with the man who she dated in high school, according to charging documents.
In the beginning, it was okay, but then he began to dominate her, would not let her talk on the phone or leave the house without his permission, she told the deputy.
Charging documents allege that in early October 2011, he forced her to go to Vancouver, Wash. to get married.
She said she was waiting for him to go to jail to get away from him, according to O’Rourke. According to his attorney, Bunker was convicted of violating a protection order in connection with an assault on his previous wife. But his report date got moved, and the victim, frightened she would not survive, snuck out and contacted an ex-boyfriend, according to charging documents.
When she tried to sneak back in, he accused her of cheating, began choking her and said he would kill her, she told the deputy. She said he ripped off her clothes and raped her.
The victim spoke of his taste for pornographic movies depicting violent rape and murder, allegedly telling her to pay attention because it could happen to her, according to charging documents.
Bunker is charged with two counts of second-degree rape, one count of harassment and two counts of violating a protection order. He has pleaded not guilty.
Since being locked up awaiting trial, he was diagnosed with throat cancer and has undergone surgery and radiation, according to his attorney.
His trial finally began in January, but on the second day he was sick from chemotherapy, according to O’Rourke. The next day they reconvened but the following day, the judge got sick, she said. A mistrial was declared.
It has repeatedly been postponed since then because of Bunker’s health, and then when the victim had a heart attack.
Defense attorney Michael Underwood today asked the judge to delay the trial once again. Because of the throat condition, his client’s voice is just a whisper, he said.
“He looks good, but he’s not feeling good,” Underwood told the judge. “I just need him to be in his best best medical condition he can be in (for trial).”
Lawler denied the request. Underwood indicated he was going to prepare a motion for a change of venue, due to pretrial publicity.
O’Rourke said last week, the victim wants to testify; she wants Bunker put away. Not so much for punishment, but because she’s afraid of him, O’Rourke said.
After today’s hearing and the judge’s denial of using Skype, it’s not clear what will happen.
“Given that the doctors have told it it could kill her, I’m not going to force her to testify,” O’Rourke said.