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Defense makes its case in Coast Guard murder trial

By MJ Thim 3:59 PM April 17, 2014

Testimony centered on Wells’ medical history and a blue blur

ANCHORAGE –

Gallbladder surgery and a vehicle from surveillance video were the main focus of James Wells’ defense team Thursday morning in his double murder trial.

Wells is accused of murdering of 41-year-old James Hopkins and 51-year-old Richard Belisle at the Kodiak Island Coast Guard base two years ago. All three men worked together at the rigger shop on base.

The defenses’ first witness was Wells’ physician, Dr. Song-Qing Gan, who testified about his medical history. She said that he suffered from gallbladder problems and had it removed in January 2012.

The defense tried to establish Wells had a pattern of chronic digestive issues due to his gallbladder and that frequent trips to the restroom contributed to his whereabouts during the times of the murders. During cross-examination, the prosecution reviewed Gan’s medical notes on Wells in which she reported he had no digestive complaints after surgery.

The remainder of the trial zeroed in on a blurry blue image from video surveillance at the Coast Guard base. Prosecutors said it was a blue Honda CRV that belonged to Wells’ wife Nancy and that he drove it to the base the morning of the murders.

Michael Ditallo, a crash reconstruction consultant for the defense, told the jury the blue blur could be a Honda CRV but also testified it could be Toyota RAV 4, Ford Escape, Jeep Grand Cherokee, Chevy S-10 Blazer, Nissan Pathfinder, Isuzu Rodeo or a Hyundai Santa Fe. Ditallo said he took two images from the video and created a computer model and overlaid each of those models onto the blue blur to prove it could have been any of those vehicle models.

The defenses’ last witness for the day was Deatrich Sheffield, a federal public defender in criminal investigations. She testified about her report she did on vehicles matching Nancy Wells’ blue Honda CRV on Kodiak Island. She said she saw 75 similar vehicles when she visited the Coast Guard base.

Investigators found no murder weapon and no witnesses to the murders. The defense said there is no evidence linking Wells to the crime.

The trial resumes Friday morning.

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