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Defense witnesses take the stand in Coast Guard murder trial

By MJ Thim 5:25 PM April 18, 2014
ANCHORAGE –

Jason Barnum, also known as “Eyeball,” first made headlines in September 2012 when Anchorage police said he shot at them during a standoff at the Merrill Field Inn. Barnum remains in custody awaiting trial on attempted murder charges.

Handcuffed and in his jail uniform, the face-and-eye-tattooed Barnum was called into court Friday by James Wells’ defense team. The reason: His name came up in court this week by the prosecution. They asked Hannah Belisle, the daughter of a man killed in 2012 on the Kodiak Island Coast Guard base, about Barnum.

Barnum told the court he was in Kodiak at the time of the murders, but that he didn’t have anything to do with the crimes.

Wells is accused of shooting and killing 41-year-old James Hopkins and 51-year-old Richard Belisle (Hannah Belisle’s late father) at the Kodiak Coast Guard base two years ago. Prosecutors say he was angry about his job situation. All three men worked together at the rigger shop on base. Investigators found no murder weapon or witnesses to the crime.

The defense hoped to call Barnum as a witness, but the judge ruled his testimony wasn’t relevant. However, he didn’t rule out the possibility of Barnum actually testifying in front of the jury if the defense could find more evidence connecting him to the case.

Barnum then left court and the jury was seated.

Three friends of Wells testified about how he was a mentor, an exceptional co-worker and very neighborly.

Jonathan Musman said he considered Wells a mentor. The two met in 2002 while Musman was stationed in Juneau.

Musman, a Coast Guard commander, said he and Wells would spend a week at a time in remote locations working on engineering projects. Because of their working conditions, Musman testified their relationship gradually moved from professional to personal.

He said the last time he saw Wells was in Palmer, two weeks before the murders. They met up for breakfast while Wells was waiting to take a ferry back to Kodiak, he said. Life was good for Wells and he had no complaints about work, Musman said.

When prosecutors asked Musman if he knew about Wells being reprimanded for bad behavior, such as stealing gas and unethical conduct, Musman said no.

Greg Tlapa, another Coast Guard commander, testified he met Wells in 1999 while in Juneau, and like Musman, became personal friends with Wells. The two eventually ended up working together in Kodiak when Tlapa was stationed.

Tlapa said Wells was an exceptional worker and nominated him for an award, which Wells won. There were no anger issues or reputation of violence that he was aware of with Wells, Tlapa said.

During cross examination, Tlapa said the last time he saw Wells was in 2011 in Washington, D.C., and contact between the two diminished afterwards. When asked about Wells’ bad behavior reprimands, Tlapa said he had no knowledge of them.

Gary Carver portrayed Wells as very neighborly. He said their families would spend lots of time together in Kodiak. The two didn’t talk much about work and when Wells did, it was never negative, he said. When asked by the prosecution about any insight on Wells working at the rigger shop, Carver said he didn’t know.

The defense then called two men who knew Hannah Belisle, one of whom was her ex-boyfriend. Their testimony caused confusion when it didn’t match what they told defense lawyers two weeks ago.

Court ended early on Friday when another witness didn’t show up.

Wells’ defense strategy is reasonable doubt because his lawyers say there is no evidence linking Wells to the murders.

 

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