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‘Mr. Hyde’ guilty of rape, assault

Oak Harbor resident Joseph Blue discusses his trial with attorney Jon Ostlund. Blue was convicted of rape and assault. - Mark Strohschein / Whidbey News-Times
Oak Harbor resident Joseph Blue discusses his trial with attorney Jon Ostlund. Blue was convicted of rape and assault.
— image credit: Mark Strohschein / Whidbey News-Times

Panties don’t fit, but they won’t acquit

A man described as “Dr. Jeckyl and Mr. Hyde” by the county prosecutor is going to prison for strangling and raping his ex-girlfriend last August.

A jury in Island County Superior Court found Joseph Blue, a 28-year-old Oak Harbor man, guilty of rape in the first degree and assault in the second degree by strangulation. The verdict was read last Friday, after seven days of testimony by the victim, police, doctors, witnesses and competing experts.

In the end, members of the jury evidently agreed with Island County Prosecutor Greg Banks’ portrait of Blue.

“This case is about the Jeckyl-and-Hyde behavior of this man, Joseph Blue,” Banks said in his opening statement.

“It was triggered by jealousy and fueled by alcohol, cocaine, prescription medication and mari juana,” he added.

Blue’s attorney, Jon Ostlund of Anacortes, tried to poke holes in the prosecutor’s case by questioning the victim’s credibility and the lack of forensic evidence.

“This is a case of exaggeration, a case of fabrication, a case of vindictiveness,” Ostlund said.

Ostlund repeated over and over that Blue was guilty of assaulting the woman, but not of raping or strangling her.

The first witness was a dispatcher who brought a 911 tape of the frightened woman asking for help after Blue had left her apartment after a night and morning of terror.

“He told me he was going to kill me over and over and over again while he was strangling me,” the woman said.

The victim, a 30-year-old Oak Harbor woman, spent hours on the stand during the trial, answering questions about her ordeal. She asked that her name not be used in the newspaper.

The petite, soft-spoken woman explained that she and Blue had lived together, but she had kicked him out before he went to Alaska last year. When he returned, they still hung out as friends.

She explained that Blue had badly fractured his wrist the day before the assault. She said he was taking a lot of prescription pain medication, but was also intoxicated from alcohol, cocaine and pot.

She described how Blue beat her, bit her all over her body, urinated on her head, dragged her by the hair, gouged her eyes with his thumbs, hit her with a belt, sodomized her, raped her and strangled her several times, once causing her to lose consciousness.

“If he wasn’t strangling me or hitting me, he was lecturing me on how this was my fault,” she said, “and trying to make me understand that this was what I deserve.”

The woman started crying while describing the strangulation.

“I couldn’t fight. He was so strong. He was so strong,” she said. “I kept thinking to myself, this is it.”

During the trial, Banks introduced testimony from two other women who claimed that Blue had assaulted and raped them in other states. The testimony was allowed, Banks explained, in order to show that beating, strangling and raping women was part of “a common scheme or plan” for Blue.

Blue’s ex-girlfriend claimed that he had beaten her very badly, choked her until she lost consciousness and raped her. She managed to escape and ran out of the home naked. She had photos taken of the injuries.

“Her whole face was a mess,” Banks said after the trial. “It looked like a Halloween mask.”

Blue’s ex-wife took the stand and testified about two incidents of alleged violence. She claimed he strangled her and hit her inside a truck, then slammed the vehicle’s door on her hand.

She claimed he assaulted her again, 10 days later. She said he smothered her with a pillow and later raped her.

Blue didn’t testify at the trial, which his attorney called a strategic decision.

In his closing argument, Ostlund said there was “no objective evidence” to support that Blue either raped or strangled the woman. Doctors testified that the forensic results are unclear. Also, Ostlund pointed out that Blue’s hand was broken. His orthopedic surgeon testified that he wouldn’t have been able to use the hand without intolerable pain, even with all the drugs he took.

But Banks countered that Blue obviously was able to beat the woman and hold her down to bite her, which Ostlund didn’t refute. Banks showed the jury numerous photos of the woman’s injuries. The prosecutor said it’s not a stretch to think that Blue also could have strangled and raped the small woman, even with one hand.

In a bizarre turn of the trial, Ostlund discussed a pair of skimpy, thong underwear that the victim testified Blue had worn. She claimed Blue told her he got them from his friend “Todd.”

Wearing rubber gloves, Ostlund held the panties up for the jury and argued that his client wouldn’t fit in them. He questioned why they weren’t tested for DNA.

Banks, however, said the underwear was just a distraction from the important evidence in the case. He said “Todd” provided a real bit of comic relief when he testified about the thong and other underthings.

“I would encourage you to use gloves if you are going to handle it,” he told the jury.

Blue could face more than 10 years in prison when he is sentenced at 9 a.m. on Aug. 22.

Banks said the sentence range will depend on whether the two charges are considered separate crimes or part of the same act. The likely range, he said, is an indeterminate sentence with a minimum of 93 to 123 months. Blue would have to serve the minimum sentence and go before a review board that will decide whether to release him.

You can reach News-Times reporter Jessie Stensland at jstensland@whidbeynewstimes.com or call 675-6611.

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