Richland suspect faces April 8 trial in attempted rape

Kristin M. Kraemer, Tri-City HeraldJanuary 18, 2013 

An April 8 trial date has been set for a Richland man who's accused of forcing a co-worker into her car and threatening to rape her as he shocked her with a stun gun.

Aaron Michael Sparks, 33, was in Benton County Superior Court on Thursday to waive his right to a speedy trial.

His defense attorney, John Jensen, said he will need extra preparation time given the amount of paperwork and evidence in the "complex case."

Sparks first appeared in court Monday after extradition from Montana, where he was arrested a day after the Jan. 2 alleged attack. He pleaded innocent to one count each of first-degree kidnapping and attempted first-degree rape.

However, the case had to be recalled Thursday since the original trial date was set outside the 60-day window for in-custody defendants.

Sparks is in the Benton County jail on $100,000 bail.

The 31-year-old victim was leaving her Potter Avenue home for work at 4:30 a.m. when a man pushed her into her car, tried to sexually assault her and activated his stun gun, according to Richland police and court documents.

She was able to use the panic button on her car alarm to get the attention of her family, who ran outside to help. The suspect shocked her father with the stun gun and took off, documents said.

The victim managed to pull off her attacker's ski mask and gloves during the struggle. Her boyfriend told police a red Toyota Echo was parked on nearby Perkins Avenue, where the suspect last was seen, although the suspect was not spotted getting into a vehicle.

The victim initially was hesitant to identify anyone without being 100 percent certain, but as she reportedly made a connection to Sparks as she talked with Richland investigators.

The woman said Sparks, who worked with her at a Tri-City fast-food restaurant, had been making inappropriate sexual comments on the job for the past three weeks, court documents said.

As detectives were trying to track down the suspect, Sparks' family reported him missing to Richland police. Officers learned that he drives a red Toyota Echo, which also was missing.

Police put information about Sparks into a national database, which led authorities in Missoula to call Richland after Sparks showed up in a Montana hospital with self-inflicted wounds to his neck and wrists, said Richland police Capt. Mike Cobb.

In a search of Sparks' home, police found a shipping box for a stun gun similar to the one described by the victim, a pair of handcuffs and a receipt for the same type of gloves found at the crime scene, Cobb said.

Detectives also allegedly found a suicide note and clothes in the dryer that matched what the suspect was wearing in the alleged abduction.

Sparks is ordered to have no contact with the victim while the case is pending.

Court delayed for woman accused in baby's drowning death in tub

A Benton City woman's first appearance for the November drowning death of her toddler was delayed because her lawyer is out of town.

Wendi Finkbeiner-Setzer, 39, was scheduled to enter a plea to a new charge of second-degree manslaughter.

Judge Craig Matheson agreed to push the court date back a week so attorney Larry Stephenson can be present.

The charge was filed Jan. 3, almost two months after Piper K. Finkbeiner was found face down and not breathing in the bathtub of her Thunder Road home.

The 1-year-old was taken to Kadlec Regional Medical Center in Richland after the Nov. 5 incident, then flown to Seattle Children's Hospital.

Doctors determined Piper was brain dead and she was taken off life support Nov. 12, court documents said.

Finkbeiner-Setzer told Benton County sheriff's deputies that Piper and her 2-year-old sister had been left alone for no more than five minutes in about 10 to 12 inches of water, documents said.

She reportedly left the bathroom to do some work on a computer. The water overflowed from the tub, soaking throw rugs in the bathroom and the carpet under the door between the bathroom and bedroom.

Finkbeiner-Setzer's 18-year-old son discovered the toddler had drowned when he checked on the girls after getting home, documents said.

Prosecutors allege Finkbeiner-Setzer was criminally negligent for leaving the two young kids in the tub unsupervised.

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