Boys' rapes, murders detailed in Erskine trial

SAN DIEGO – A San Diego man sexually assaulted and strangled two young boys who were out on a bicycle ride more than 10 years ago, a prosecutor told a jury today.

Scott Erskine, 40, could face the death penalty if convicted of the March 27, 1993, deaths of Jonathan Sellers, 9, and Charlie Keever, 13.

"He took these young boys, and he bound them, and he gagged them, and he raped them and he killed them," prosecutor Valerie Summers said in her opening statement at trial.

Erskine coughed loudly and seemed to choke as Summers recited the gruesome details of the way the boys died.

Keever's mother sat in the first row of the audience; Sellers' mother was in the next row back.

The prosecutor said Sellers ended up going on the bicycle ride with Keever because Sellers' older brother had to go to a band recital.

A man doing wind-sprints near the Otay River bed in southern San Diego found the boys' bodies two days later in an igloo-style fort-type enclosure.

DNA samples were collected from the victims, but it wasn't until 2001 that advanced DNA technology allowed scientists to learn that someone else's DNA was left in Keever's mouth, the prosecutor said.

A "cold DNA hit" on prison inmates revealed a match between the DNA left in Keever's mouth and Erskine, Summers said.

Erskine's DNA was also found on two cigarette butts found outside the fort, the prosecutor said.

The defendant is charged with two counts of murder, with allegations that he used a rope to strangle the two boys.

Erskine also is charged with special circumstance allegations that the murders happened during the commission of a lewd and lascivious act on a child under 14, that both boys were tortured and an allegation of multiple murders.

Defense attorney Larry Ainbinder told the jury that the victims somehow came into contact with Erskine the day they died and were "overpowered, bound, gagged" and killed.

"And unspeakable crimes were committed against them," the attorney said. "They were strangled and they were murdered and they were horrified."

Ainbinder said the DNA swabs taken from Keever's mouth connected Erskine to the murders.

The attorney said he and co-counsel Juliana Humphrey would not be seeking an acquittal in the guilt phase of trial.

"We will not ask you to return a verdict of not guilty," Ainbinder said.

The attorney began his opening statement by telling jurors that Erskine was charged last year with the June 1989 rape and murder of a woman in Palm Beach, Fla. after DNA swabs taken from her mouth at the crime scene connected the defendant to the murder.

Ainbinder told the jury that in October 1993, seven months after the boys were killed, Erskine attacked and raped a woman he met at a San Diego bus stop.

Erskine was serving a sentence of 70 years to life in prison for that crime when he was charged in March 2001 with the murders of Sellers and Keever.

If the defendant is found guilty, a penalty phase would follow for jurors to recommend the death penalty or life without the possibility of parole.

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