July 11, 2002 11:00 pm

By T.L. Petersen

Observer Staff Writer

CLACKAMAS — The trial of a La Grande man charged with several sex crimes, including rape, could end today, Clackamas County Circuit Court officials said Thursday.

The court began hearing the defense of Chester Lawrence Gunter, 43, Thursday in a trial that began with jury selection Monday.

Gunter, who was involved in the furniture business in Northeast Oregon for many years, is accused of kidnapping and raping a Clackamas Starbucks' coffee shop employee in December 2001.

Gunter was arrested on Jan. 25 in La Grande, accused of first-degree rape, first-degree sodomy, unlawful sexual penetration, first-degree kidnapping and two counts of second-degree robbery.

Gunter's defense attorney, Dan Lorenz of Portland, reserved the right at the beginning of the trial to give the defense's opening statement after the state rested its case.

By mid-day Thursday, the prosecution was coming to a close, said Dave Paul, the public information officer for the Clackamas County District Attorney's Office.

Dona Scarpone of the state crime lab was scheduled to be the last prosecution witness to appear before Judge Eve Miller.

Paul said Gunter's defense had been expected to begin Thursday afternoon and could conclude today.

Christine Landers of the Clackamas County District Attorney's Office is prosecuting the case.

At issue is whether or not Gunter was the man — driving a full-size, green pickup truck Dec. 30 — who entered a Starbucks shop at 122nd Avenue and Sunnyside Road at about 6:30 a.m., forced a female employee from the store as another clerk watched, and later raped the clerk and left her on the side of the road a few miles away.

Clackamas County detectives came to La Grande in late January looking for Gunter, in part because of tips received as a result of an ad in The Oregonian that included a sketch of the suspect and a description of the suspect's vehicle.

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