Jury renders verdict after 2 week trial in Valdez court
A Valdez jury convicted former Valdez man Derek Werder of 28 felony sex abuse charges and six assault charges Thursday afternoon after a trial lasting nearly two weeks.
Werder was accused in August 2011 of numerous counts of sexual abuse involving underage victims, including a victim he continued to abuse after adulthood.
“The secret is now out to your community,” Melissa Howard, assistant district attorney, told the jury during the trial’s closing arguments Wednesday.
The defense attorney, Nikki Swayne, had painted a portrait of an unorthodox but consensual romantic relationship between Werder and the main victim that turned sour, resulting in false accusations against her client.
Swayne said she did not wish to demonize the victim, then proceeded to claim the testimony given by witnesses against Werder were lies and that the victims in the case had conspired to bring false charges in order to force him out of his home. As evidence of untruthfulness, Swayne said that the trial included testimony that Werder had been reported to the Office of Children’s Services three years before his 2011 arrest and the victims denied any wrong-doing on Werder’s part at that time.
Howard reminded the jury of expert testimony during the trial that it is common for childhood victims of sexual abuse to initially deny the crimes committed against them and said it was absurd to believe defense allegations the victim was a willing participant in Werder’s abuse and had nothing to fear from him.
“If it was a consensual relationship, why didn’t she just break up with him?” Howard asked the jury.
Howard also pointed a finger at Werder’s wife Jennifer, who had testified she knew about the abuse but did nothing to stop Werder or aid the victims.
The trial included sworn testimony that Werder once held a gun to the main victim’s head and threatened to shoot if there was an attempt to escape.
Four of the five assault charges Werder was convicted of last week stemmed from an incident on Thompson Pass where he used a firearm to shoot at the victims from an RV.
Werder’s ongoing crimes came under the radar of law enforcement after a July 2011 encounter with Alaska State Troopers at a campground near Ninilchik. Troopers were called to the scene to investigate a report of a domestic assault and found the main victim had been beaten, though initially it was claimed the facial injuries were caused by an accident with a four-wheeler.
There was utter silence in the courtroom when Judge Eric Smith read the words “guilty” after each of the 34 charges against Werder. There was no visible reaction to the verdict by Werder.
Members of the jury were offered free counseling by the court due to the graphic nature of the evidence and testimony which included ongoing domestic violence and allegations Werder kept the main victim as a virtual prisoner in his home for nearly a decade, after the victim was removed from school when in the sixth grade.
Smith set sentencing for October 15, 2012 in Valdez Court.