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Kodiak Island murder trial gets underway

By Lauren Maxwell 7:04 PM April 1, 2014

Trial starts nearly two years from the date of the crime


Opening statements were held Tuesday as a double murder trial got underway in Anchorage federal court. The two men were killed on the Kodiak Island Coast Guard base almost exactly two years ago.

Forty-one-year old James Hopkins and 51-year-old Richard Belisle were shot and killed the morning of April 12, 2012. The men worked together in a communications building on base called the Rigger Shop. Investigators say both men were murdered just minutes after they came to work — shortly after 7 a.m.

The government says the man who murdered them was their colleague, 63-year-old Jim Wells. U.S. Attorney Karen Loeffler painted a picture of Wells as a problem employee who harbored a growing resentment toward his supervisor and a fellow employee.

Loeffler said the murders were premeditated, well planned and that Wells was the only one who could have committed them.

Judge Ralph Beistline listened as Loeffler outlined her theory about how Wells used his wife’s car to avoid detection, then produced an alibi about a flat tire that kept him out of work that morning.

Loeffler said her experts will testify that Wells punctured the tire himself.

The defense plans to call on their own experts to explain a variety of things. One of those is video that shows a blue car on base near the scene of the murders at about the same time. The image is blurry. Prosecutors said the car belongs to Wells’ wife, which he was driving while she was out of town. But the defense said their experts will prove the image doesn’t match her car at all.

Defense attorney Rich Curtner said there is another big problem with the government’s theory: there is no evidence that links his client to the crime. The murder weapon was never found, there were no witnesses and many searches of Wells’ home and vehicles turned up nothing. Curtner says there were other people who may have had motives for murder, but investigators never considered them because they were too focused on Wells from the start.

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