The Court of Appeals reversed two of three murder verdicts in the case of a man who used a machete to kill a Palmer farmer. 

Thomas Cottam Jr. was found guilty of one count of first-degree murder and two counts of second-degree murder in the 2014 death of Steven Garcia.

Court documents say 81-year-old Garcia picked up Cottam as a hitchhiker, offered him a place to stay and a job. A few days later, Cottam turned himself into the Anchorage jail and told authorities he killed Garcia.

During his trial, Cottam asked the Superior Court that the jury be instructed on two defenses: self-defense and heat of passion.  

Cottam claimed he blacked out after Garcia came at him with a machete. When he came to, Cottam said he was holding the weapon and standing over Garcia's body.

The ruling says the Superior Court instructed the jury on self-defense but not on heat of passion.

The court agrees that Cottam's defense qualified for each of the elements for a heat of passion defense. Those qualifications are:

  1. that the defendant committed the homicide while in a heat of passion,
  2. that their passion was the result of a serious provocation by the victim, and
  3. that they committed the homicide before there was a reasonable opportunity for their passion to cool.

Two of the jury's murder verdicts against Cottam were reversed based on Alaska statutes on intentional killing and second-degree murder. In their ruling posted Friday, the court left one second-degree murder conviction standing, stating the heat of passion defense did not apply to that count.

Cottam can get a new trial if the state decides they want to follow up on the charges the Court of Appeals overturned.

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