Wilson gets $3M bail in Kotzebue girl’s killing
The man accused of kidnapping, raping and killing a 10-year-old girl, in a case which has transfixed the Northwest Alaska community of Kotzebue, has been held on $3 million bail.
Magistrate Judge Aaron Michels held a felony first appearance Tuesday for 41-year-old Peter Wilson, who is facing both state and federal charges in the death of Ashley Johnson-Barr. Federal prosecutors say Wilson lied about where he found Johnson-Barr’s phone, during a massive search effort that ended with the girl’s body found on the tundra east of town.
On Tuesday, Michels read out the nine state counts against Wilson – three counts of first-degree murder, four of first-degree sexual abuse of a minor, plus one count each of kidnapping and evidence tampering. After each charge, he asked if Wilson understood them.
Wilson, who was initially held on a charge of giving false statements to a federal agent, spoke by telephone from Anchorage where he is currently held in federal custody without bail. He answered almost every question asked of him with a “Yes, Your Honor.”
Johnson-Barr’s mother cried as Michels described the sexual abuse charges, with Kotzebue Mayor Gayle Ralston present to support the victim’s family.
The court also appointed a public defender for Wilson, after he testified that he made less than $30,000 last year and didn’t have any savings.
Prosecutor Rachel Ahrens argued vigorously that bail for Wilson, whom she said has been traveling between at least three villages and hasn’t recently had a permanent address, be set at $3 million. She described Wilson’s acts as “extremely, extremely dangerous behavior.”
“This is definitely a case where bail is absolutely necessary,” Ahrens told the court. “The evidence that the court has in front of it is in the information is strong – the DNA evidence, the fact that he had the phone with him.”
Johnson-Barr’s father, Scotty Barr, addressed the court on the verge of tears, concurring with Ahrens.
“It’s in God’s hands now as well as you, the judge as well as the district attorney,” Barr said. “I trust in all you guys to make the best decision for our family, our community and our region and our whole state, and our nation of states, that’s been behind us since Day One.”
Michels agreed, granting Ahrens’ request, noting that "this case has affected the community like nothing in recent memory."
“The community has frankly been terrified for the past few weeks, not knowing what they were going to find,” Michels said. “And when they did find the victim here, it was basically the worst possible scenario they could find.”
In addition, Wilson was barred from contact with Johnson-Barr’s family, consuming alcohol or leaving the state.
Wilson’s next court appearance was set for Oct. 4.
John Thain and Joe Vigil contributed information to this story.
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