The March 11 trial date has been vacated, for the time being, for a man accused of murdering his girlfriend at a Yakutat lodge 16 years ago.
Judge Louis Menendez agreed to the defense’s motion to continue the trial for Robert D. Kowalski, 51, during a status hearing in Juneau Superior Court on Wednesday.
Menendez said it is “not unusual” for murder cases to be tried a year or so after an indictment has been issued, given their complicated nature. Menendez also noted he knows that can be frustrating to the families involved.
A new trial date will be scheduled during the next hearing on Feb. 15. Kowalski’s attorney, Public Defender Eric Hedland, said a late summer or fall trial date would be more realistic than March.
Kowalski is accused of fatally shooting Sandra M. Perry on July 21, 1996, at the Glacier Bear Lodge in Yakutat, where the couple was vacationing from Washington.
Alaska investigators at the time ruled the death accidental. The then-34-year-old Kowalski maintained the gun discharged when he tripped, and he was never arrested.
The case was re-opened in January 2009 after Kowalski was charged and convicted of murdering of his girlfriend in Montana in 2008. Kowalski claimed accidental discharge of the gun in that case, too, according to prosecutors. He is currently serving a 50-year with 10-years suspended prison sentence in that case.
Kowalski was indicted by a grand jury in Juneau in September 2011, and he was extradited to Alaska and arraigned in Juneau court in March. He is currently being held at Lemon Creek Correctional Center on $1 million bond.
He is charged with one count of first-degree murder and one count of second-degree murder. Both of those are unclassified felonies that can carry up to 99 years in prison.
Assistant Attorney General James J. Fayette of the state’s Office of Special Prosecutions is now prosecuting the case, and he participated in Wednesday’s hearing by phone from Anchorage. Paul J. Miovas Jr. was the original lead prosecutor, but he has since moved to the District Attorney’s Office in Anchorage as an assistant district attorney, according to his office.
During Wednesday’s hearing, Fayette demanded pretrial motions be filed by the defense in a timely manner. He filed a motion last week asking the judge to preclude un-filed pretrial motions that missed the motion deadline, and he asked the court to require Hedland to show good cause why the pretrial deadline motion should be extended again.
The judge gave Hedland 10 days to respond to the motion, and another four weeks to file the pretrial motions. One big pre-trial issue expected to arise is over the admissibility of Kowalski’s 2008 murder conviction.
• Contact reporter Emily Russo Miller at 523-2263 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.