“Federal prosecutors won’t seek death penalty for Kodiak Coast Guard killings”

Alaska Dispatch on August 6, 2013 released the following:

By Laurel Andrews

“Prosecutors announced Monday that they will not seek the death penalty against James Michael Wells, charged with murdering two men on the Kodiak Coast Guard base in April 2012.

The murders stunned the island of Kodiak – a community of about 6,000 people living on the second-largest island in the U.S. — and the case continued with no arrests made for 10 months after the killings.

Richard Belisle and James Hopkins were found dead April 12, 2012, shortly after their shift began at 7 a.m. at the “rigger shop,” where they worked alongside Wells repairing antenna at Coast Guard Air Station Kodiak.

U.S. Attorney for Alaska Karen Loeffler said in February that Alaska State Troopers, the FBI, and the U.S. Coast Guard investigative service considered the investigation “a top priority,” and that Wells’ indictment in February was the culmination of their efforts.

Wells was charged with four counts of premeditated murder in the killing of U.S. Coast Guard Electronics Technician First Class Hopkins and U.S. Coast Guard civilian employee Belisle — and six counts total. The first two counts charge him with murder in the first degree on federal property. Two others charge him with murder of an officer or employee of the United States. The final two charge him with possession and use of a firearm in relation to a crime of violence.

Wells pleaded not guilty to the February murders.

The question of whether prosecutors would seek the death penalty remained up in the air in late July, when Wells’ defense attorney Rich Curtner filed a motion that made reference to the possibility of the death penalty being sought in the case.

The death penalty was abolished in Alaska in 1957, two years before the then-U.S. territory became a state. But prosecutors still can seek the death penalty for cases tried in federal court.

In March, Loeffler told Alaska Dispatch there’s been “no case that I’m aware of in the last 25 years where the death penalty was actually sought at trial” in Alaska.

However, the death penalty was approved, and would have been sought, by prosecutors in the high-profile case against Joshua Wade, an Anchorage man convicted of killing his neighbor, nurse Mindy Schloss, in 2007. Because the case was tried in federal court and because the charges also involved a carjacking, Wade was eligible for the death penalty. But eventually, Wade cut a deal in which he pleaded guilty to the murder, and federal prosecutors agreed to not seek the death penalty.

Loeffler said in March that she would make a recommendation to the U.S. Attorney General’s Capital Review Committee in Washington, D.C., on whether to pursue the death penalty, but ultimately the decision lies with the U.S. Attorney General.

Monday’s notice states simply that the U.S. District Attorney’s office will not be pursuing the death penalty in the case.

Neither Wells’ defense attorney nor the U.S. District Attorney’s office were available for comment on Tuesday afternoon.

Well’s trial is slated for February 2014.”

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Douglas McNabb – McNabb Associates, P.C.’s
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The author of this blog is Douglas C. McNabb. Please feel free to contact him directly at mcnabb@mcnabbassociates.com or at one of the offices listed above.

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