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For the week of May 2 through May 8, 2001

Bike path attack case held for trial

Blood found on accused assailant’s coat

Express Staff Writer

The defense attorney for an accused assailant in a bike path knife attack called evidence presented in a preliminary hearing Tuesday "thin stew," but Magistrate Judge Mark Ingram found it compelling enough to bind Eric Liebl over to Fifth District Court for trial on a charge of aggravated assault.

Eric Liebl, right, and defense attorney Doug Nelson. Express photo by Willy Cook.

The preliminary hearing at the Blaine County Courthouse was the first time the victim, Toni A. Lemmon, came face to face with her alleged assailant.

Liebl, 18, is accused of attacking Lemmon with a knife on April 16 on the Wood River Trails system just north of its intersection with Buttercup Road.

In her court testimony, Lemmon said she was biking south to meet a friend heading north from Hailey on her bike. Just as she was nearing a line of trees along the bike path, Lemmon said she was knocked off her bike by a "very hard blow" to her back or neck area.

While falling she noticed someone in a gray coat go by her and stop just ahead of where she fell. She told the court that this was the same coat she recognized on an "unusual" mountain biker she had passed earlier near Ohio Gulch Road.

She said she thought he appeared unusual because of the coat, because he wasn’t wearing a helmet, and because he was riding southbound in the left lane.

She said no words were exchanged at the time they passed, except that she might have warned him she was on his right.

After her assailant knocked her off her bike and passed her, she said she saw him stop and then come back toward her.

Then, in what she described as "a shuffle of events," she was put into a headlock and hit on the head. Her biking helmet protected her from the blows, but the headlock strained her chin strap so that it choked her.

She said that at another point her assailant was able to grasp her helmet from the top and throw her to the ground, moving her towards the tree line and the ditch next to it.

He said he was going to kill her, and when he told her he was going to knife her, she said she started looking for a knife.

His right hand was still latched to her helmet, and when she saw a knife in his left hand, she grabbed his wrist with both of her hands.

At that point the attacker kneed her in the stomach a couple of times, still trying to work her into the trees.

She said she broke away—but she doesn’t know how—and ran "as hard as I could" south along the bike path to Buttercup Road and then to Highway 75.

There she sat down, "choking, out of breath, hoping someone would come along."

Chief Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Marilyn Paul asked her how she felt.

"I was terrified. I was afraid I was going to die and he wanted to get me into the trees."

Defense attorney Doug Nelson, who was appointed by the court, was able to establish that Lemmon could not unequivocally identify Liebl by face despite an assault she estimated to have lasted three to five minutes.

When Nelson asked her if Liebl was the man who attacked her.

She replied, "Yes, I think so."

But under more questioning, she admitted that she "never saw his face during the attack. I was looking at the knife, my head was forced down. I was struggling for my life."

Still, she was certain it was Liebl because of his eyes. "It’s real scary to look at him, and so it makes me think I’ve seen those eyes."

Despite the defense’s ability to cast doubt on her identification of Liebl, the prosecution offered other evidence that put Liebl in the vicinity at the time of the crime.

Judge Ingram noted the description of Liebl’s gray insulated coat as sufficiently identifying him "more probably than not" as the assailant.

In addition to this evidence, the prosecution said there was fresh blood on his coat when he was captured. Both of Lemmon’s hands were bleeding from wounds received her fight against the attack.

Ingram said, "I am going to bind you over based on the totality of the evidence.

Liebl remains in custody at the Blaine County Jail in lieu of $100,000 bond. His next court appearance has not yet been scheduled.



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