Up until now, jurors have only been able to glean bits and pieces of the life of John N. Marvin Jr., the 47-year-old Hoonah man on trial for first-degree murder for allegedly killing two police officers two years ago.
He was a runner; used to participate in the annual Fourth of July celebrations; used to work at a liquor store across the street; has a military background; and his hobby was working on computers, according to testimony thus far.
But after the state rested its case Wednesday, a more complete picture began to emerge as the defense called upon Marvin’s friends and family members to testify about his state of mind at the time, and leading up to, the fatal shootings.
One of Marvin’s friends, who is also technically his uncle through a tribe, Stephen “Steve” Warford, told the jury about the man he used to know. Warford has lived in Hoonah since 1999, and has known Marvin for almost as long.
Marvin taught Warford everything he wanted to know about Linux computer systems, and they used to go on hunting trips together. Warford and his wife, who is technically Marvin’s aunt, would invite Marvin over for dinner at their house every couple of weeks.
But about six to nine months ago, Marvin withdrew and became more reclusive.
Things worsened within two to the three months of the Aug. 28, 2010, shootings to the point where, “the guy I used to know, he wasn’t home no more,” Warford said.
The last time they interacted, Marvin slammed a door in his face.
“He just wasn’t approachable,” Warford said.
In addition to antisocial behavior, Marvin had stopped showering, and his refrigerator was “sparse,” Warford said. Marvin survived by “living off the land” and eating deer meat, Warford said.
There was also a suicide attempt that Warford had promised Marvin he would never speak of, and Warford said he was breaking his promise by testifying to it on the witness stand.
Before Warford could elaborate on the attempt, District Attorney David Brower made an objection based on foundation, which the judge upheld.
There was also a time when Marvin was seen walking outside in the snow, barefoot. Once, Warford said he interrupted a spiritual prayer ritual, wherein Marvin was praying and holding coins in his hand. At that point, Warford said he called his friend, Bill Brown, who might be able to talk to Marvin about it.
“I wasn’t the friend that he needed,” Warford said, adding he thought Brown might be.
Warford said no threats to police were ever made so far as he knew during this time frame.
Warford’s testimony fits into the narrative put forth by Marvin’s attorney, public defender, Eric Hedland, who told the jury that his client is a person has been deteriorating mentally over time. Another person who corroborated that narrative was Marvin’s ex-wife, Johanna Dybdahl, one of the state’s witnesses who was cross-examined by Hedland.
Dybdahl testified Monday she was married to Marvin from 1990 to 1995, and that she had continued contact with him after their divorce. They didn’t have any children together, but she had children from a previous relationship. Marvin was a skilled shooter and taught her youngest son how to hunt, she said.
For as long as she knew him, Marvin sported a short, clean-cut haircut, and he was known for his computer expertise and chopping wood for neighbors.
But after an incident with police in 2009, Marvin’s personal appearance began to change, she said. He began growing out his hair, which now almost reaches his elbows. She was concerned by that and thought he needed help.
“I felt like he was walking a tight rope, and it was not going to end up good,” she said. “ ... I felt that for John personally that he was going through something that I had never seen him go through before in all of the time that I had known him.”
The last time they talked in January or February of 2010, he told her and her children not to come around to his house anymore. He also told her during that conversation the police had disconnected the power in his home.
Dybdahl testified she abided by Marvin’s request. She couldn’t help but see him around the small town — which has less than 1,000 people — but she avoided him and did not try to contact him again.
When asked by defense attorney Hedland if Marvin indicated he harbored ill will towards police or threatened police in that last conversation, she said no. She added she never thought he would harm her or her kids, and that he never threatened her.
Hedland then asked if someone tried to help Marvin. Dybdahl said no.
What happened Aug. 15, 2009?
Jurors have been informed that police — or more specifically, the two Hoonah Police Department officers who were shot and killed, Sgt. Anthony Wallace and Officer Matthew Tokuoka — previously arrested Marvin in 2009. Prosecutors say the incident provided Marvin motive to kill the officers a year later. The defense says that police assumed Marvin had shot in the officers in 2010 without any proof based on that contact the year prior. Marvin was the sole suspect in the 2010 murders.
Hardly any details surrounding the Aug. 15, 2009, arrest have been offered in court, except for the fact that some sort of struggle ensued which prompted police to Taser Marvin and lodge him in a jail cell. Testimony has suggested both Marvin and the officers were physically injured to some degree in the struggle.
The call originally came in as a trespass call inside someone’s home, Hedland told the jurors on the opening day of trial last week. Marvin was alleged to have walked unannounced into a neighbor’s home and shut the door behind him. The woman called for her husband to come downstairs while she asked Marvin to leave, which he did. By the time police contacted him, Marvin was already back at his house.
Marvin ended up being charged with assaulting both the officers, but ultimately those charges were dismissed.
The jury learned a little bit more about the incident this week through the Chris Budke, an EMT in charge of all the EMTs in Hoonah, and Karen Mills, an EMT and police dispatcher.
Budke testified he was called out to the scene in 2009 to remove the three Taser barbs from Marvin’s body. When Budke arrived on scene, the two officers and then-police chief Jefferson Hankla were all restraining Marvin, who was on the ground. Also there with Budke was Mills and another EMT responder.
Budke said he could only remove two of the barbs on scene because there was an ongoing commotion and he deemed it was unsafe. He said he couldn’t even get a good look at the person on the ground because of all the commotion, despite removing two of the barbs from his torso area. Budke also said he struggled with the removal process in part because of all the activity and also because he had never removed barbs from a human body before. He noted there was lots of swearing and profanity, but he couldn’t recall what was said. Budke said there was not an opportunity to further examine the person on the ground for any other injuries. He was then asked to leave even though Marvin still had one barb attached to his body.
Mills testified Wednesday that while she was out on that call, she was advised by Budke to keep her distance because it was unsafe. She remembered the struggle happening in the middle of a downtown intersection, a few doors down from Marvin’s house, which is also near the location of the 2010 shootings. She said she couldn’t observe much, but that it was clearly an altercation.
Later, she and Budke were called down to the police station to remove the third barb. Marvin, whom the defense had described as “bloodied” from the struggle, was cleaned up by then. Mills described Marvin as being “combative” as both Wallace and Tokuoka restrained him inside the jail cell while Budke removed the third barb.
The following night, Mills said she was at work and could hear the officer playing back their audio recording of the incident. (Police typically record all field interactions, she said.) Mills, a witness for the defense who was subpoenaed to appear in court to testify, said under direct examination from Hedland that she could hear the officers laughing as they played it. She told them, twice, to “knock it off.”
“I didn’t think it was appropriate,” Mills said. “And I know from having worked at the police department that this particular cell that Mr. Marvin was in, you can hear — the walls are thin — you can hear what’s going on, and I just didn’t think that it was appropriate.”
After hearing testimony about the 2009 arrest, Sitka Superior Court Judge David George, who is presiding over the trial, gave the jury special instructions. He advised that they were not to hold the fact that Marvin was arrested in the past against him, and that they are only to consider that testimony as it relates to Marvin’s state of mind.
An unexpected twist
Next door to Marvin’s two-story Front Street home is another home that is actually closer in proximity to the scene of the fatal 2010 shootings. Supposedly secluded there is an “angry,” “loner” Vietnam veteran, rumored to be “touched” with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Hedland told the judge late Wednesday afternoon, outside the presence of the jurors who were already excused for the day.
Hedland informed the Judge David George that he wanted to inquire about the home’s resident, whom Hedland identified in open court as Tom Mills, through the next witness he calls to the stand.
Hedland argued that the scene of the 2010 shootings was unsecured for about 10 to 15 minutes as the wounded officers were being driven to the local clinic. Testimony has shown during that window of time in those initial moments after shots rang out, no one was watching Marvin’s residence.
“There’s another house there that can’t be accounted for,” Hedland asserted, saying it could have been accessible to anyone even if Mills was not home at the time.
Hedland added that he has been able to establish during the trial so far that the law enforcement’s recreation of the crime scene was not as precise as originally thought; no one saw Marvin with a gun or shooting the officers; and it’s not clear from what range or distance the bullets were fired from.
Hedland said he wanted to know what was inside the house, especially if there were any long guns. He noted that Troopers had entered the home, as well as the other house adjacent to Marvin’s home on the opposite side, to shoot tear gas at Marvin’s residence to get him to come outside to be arrested.
“If given more time, it might turn out that I can provide witnesses who can corroborate what I have so far, and that the state could provide information that undermines or cuts short this defense as a plausible alternative, but I don’t know right now,” Hedland said.
Brower countered that Hedland’s next witness would not be able to place Mills at the scene of the crime due to her lack of knowledge about it. Brower then said that Mills was working for the Hoonah Indian Association catching fish in Fish Creek in Excursion Inlet from Aug. 16, 2010 through Aug. 31, 2010, which would have been during the shootings. Brower said he had the pay sheet for that time period. Hedland said he has not had the time to be able to look into that further, and that he just received this information as recent as this week.
The judge ultimately denied Hedland’s request to bring up an alternate suspect in front of the jury until Hedland has more than just “general, unspecific traits” that George says could apply to any former military member in a rural or urban community.
“You might as well say anybody on the block,” George said.
Court rules say evidence of an alternate suspect can be offered to cast doubt on whether the defendant committed the crimes alleged, if they are distinctive enough and not speculative in nature, George noted. George told Hedland he could bring the matter up later with the court if he wishes to present more evidence.