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Cold case shooter pleads not guilty in Juneau

Jury trial slated for late May in case of man accused of fatally shooting girlfriend in the head 15 years ago

Posted: March 2, 2012 - 6:44pm  |  Updated: March 4, 2012 - 1:06am
Robert Kowalski, 50, enters Juneau Superior Court an arraignment in the shooting death of 39-year-old Sandra M. Perry at Glacier Bear Lodge in Yakutat on July 21, 1996. The state extradited Kowalski from Montana where he is currently serving time in the March 2008 shooting death of Lorraine Kay Morin.  Michael Penn/Juneau Empire
Michael Penn/Juneau Empire
Robert Kowalski, 50, enters Juneau Superior Court an arraignment in the shooting death of 39-year-old Sandra M. Perry at Glacier Bear Lodge in Yakutat on July 21, 1996. The state extradited Kowalski from Montana where he is currently serving time in the March 2008 shooting death of Lorraine Kay Morin.

The man accused of fatally shooting his girlfriend in the head in a Yakutat lodge about 15 years ago pleaded not guilty to murder charges recently leveled against him.

Robert D. Kowalski, 50, who was indicted by a state of Alaska grand jury in connection to the crime last fall, entered his plea in Juneau Superior Court through his attorney on Friday.

Judge Louis Menendez scheduled a three-week jury trial to begin May 29, though defense attorney Eric Hedland said that was an overly optimistic start date.

Hedland said next fall will probably be more realistic time-frame. Cold case prosecutor Paul J. Miovas Jr., with the attorney general’s Office of Special Prosecutions and Appeals, said he wouldn’t object to that.

Kowalski faces felony counts of murder in the first and second degree in the July 1996 death of his then-girlfriend, Sandra M. Perry. Investigators at the time had ruled her death accidental, but re-opened the case in January 2009 as Kowalski was charged and later convicted in the 2008 murder of his girlfriend in Montana.

“He indicated it was an accident,” Miovas said in phone interview from Anchorage, adding Kowalski admitted to being in the room and to firing the gun. “At that time what we decided was ­— we didn’t have enough evidence to pursue the case.”

Kowalski was never arrested or charged in Perry’s death. But the 2008 Montana homicide was “a similar event” that couldn’t be ignored, he said.

“It clearly was a catalyst for us to take another look at the case,” Miovas said.

Both the Flathead County, Mont., and Yakutat shootings apparently were preceded by domestic disturbances; both girlfriends were shot in the mouth from close range and in both cases, Kowalski stayed with the bodies several hours before calling authorities, according to accounts from the Daily Inter Lake (Mont.) and the Anchorage Daily News newspapers.

Kowalski also admitted to both the shootings, but always maintained it wasn’t intentional.

In the case of Sandra M. Perry, the then-34-year-old Kowalski maintained his gun accidently discharged when he tripped.

An earlier release from Alaska State Troopers says Perry, 39, was killed July 21, 1996, at Glacier Bear Lodge in Yakutat, where the couple was vacationing from Washington.

Kowalski told troopers they heard a bear outside of their room and they were afraid, so he armed himself with a shotgun.

He said he tripped onto the bed and fell onto Perry. As he was getting up, Kowalski maintains the gun accidently discharged, striking Perry in the head.

Troopers say that narrative conflicts with a witness account from a man in the next room, who reported he had overheard an argument, followed by a single gunshot and then silence.

Perry was a single mother of three who lived outside of Seattle, according to the Anchorage Daily News.

Fifteen years later in 2008, Kowalski was charged for shooting his 45-year-old girlfriend once in the face with a small-caliber handgun from about 12 inches away during a drunken domestic dispute, the Daily Inter Lake reports.

The body of Lorraine Kay Morin, who was a mother of six, was found in a living room chair at her home on March 16, 2008.

Kowalski had told a roommate about the shooting, and the roommate notified authorities.

Kowalski was arrested following a 31-hour armed standoff with SWAT teams that surrounded his residence.

Once in custody, Kowalski maintains the gun went off accidentally as he was falling backward in a chair.

In that case, Kowalski pleaded guilty to mitigated deliberate homicide with an Alford plea, and was sentenced to 50 years in prison with 10 suspended in April 2009.

An Alford plea means the defendant can maintain his or her innocence, while admitting there is probably enough evidence to convince a judge or jury that he or she is guilty.

Kowalski was being held at the Dawson County Regional Prison in Glendive, Mont., until the Alaska Bureau of Investigations Cold Case Investigations Unit officials arrested him on Monday and transferred him to Juneau this week.

He is currently in custody at Lemon Creek Correctional Center on $1 million bail.

Kowalski will next appear in Juneau Superior Court for a hearing in early April. A pretrial hearing is scheduled for mid-May.

Kowalski reportedly has a criminal history and a history of mental illness.

The Daily Inter Lake reports he is on medication for anxiety and depression for bipolar disorder, and he was cited in 2003 for assaulting a family member and violating a restraining order in Montana.

In 2005, he was accused of threatening, kicking and pushing his ex-wife and threatening a stepson.

He received a drunken driving citation on the same date.

• Contact reporter Emily Russo Miller at 523-2263 or at emily.miller@juneauempire.com.

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