Strawn murder trial begins, again

After mistrial earlier this year, Christopher Strawn gets another chance in court

Brandon Cook was killed two years ago this month in Kodzoff Acres Mobile Home Park.

 

On Thursday, following three and a half days of jury selection, 14 jurors began hearing a case that will decide whether Cook was murdered by 34-year-old Christopher Strawn with a shotgun blast to the back of the head.

When he was killed, Cook worked at Juneau’s Safeway grocery store and at the Alaska Airlines ramp at the Juneau International Airport. He had lived in Juneau for almost a decade since moving to Alaska from Oklahoma.

“We know who took his life, and that person is Christopher Strawn,” said Assistant District Attorney Amy Paige, the lead prosecutor in the case. “At the conclusion of this trial, I’m going to ask you to find him guilty for doing so.”

Strawn, who is representing himself in the trial, offered no opening statement to explain his case.

This is the second trial the state has brought against Strawn. In February, a first murder trial ended in a mistrial when a witness brought up the issue of domestic violence, something that had been specifically barred by Superior Court Judge Philip Pallenberg.

After that mistrial, Strawn dismissed his public defender, Yvette Soutiere.

In opening statements at the first trial, Soutiere argued that Strawn was not the murderer and was misidentified by police, who focused on him to the exclusion of all other suspects.

It is not yet clear what Strawn’s defense of himself will rest upon.

“Have you ever heard the saying, ‘those who represent themselves have a fool for a client?’” Strawn asked prospective jurors, trying to determine whether self-representation would count against him in their minds.

He also repeatedly asked whether they would hold it against him if he remained silent.

The Empire has written many articles since Cook’s death about Strawn’s case against the state. Jury selection, which began Monday, was extended as Pallenberg, Paige and Strawn dismissed jurors for knowing too much about the case, for having connections to one or more witnesses, or other causes.

Pallenberg granted Strawn two additional “pre-emptions” that allowed Strawn to dismiss prospective jurors without cause.

At one point, Strawn said he wanted to create a “cross-section of Juneau” in the jury box.

The jury consists of seven men and seven women. Twelve will decide the case; two will serve as alternates in case one or more jurors are unable to continue with the case.

With jury selection completed at noon, the trial began after a brief lunch break.

Following Paige’s opening statement, Strawn’s second trial proceeded much like the first. Paige called Juneau Police Department dispatcher Erika Johnson as the first witness, just as she did in February’s trial. Paige then played a recording of the 911 call that followed.

On the night that Cook died, he was at the home of a friend, Tiffany Albertson.

Albertson had just bought a home in Kodzoff that needed remodeling. Cook was helping her paint. She had hired Strawn to help as well.

“My friend is dead,” Albertson repeated several times in the first seconds of the call.

Albertson, terrified, feared that she would be killed next.

“I don’t want to die,” she said.

“Please don’t let me die,” she repeated later in the call.

On Thursday, Albertson was seated in the back row of the courthouse gallery, weeping as she listened to her terror-filled call. At one point, she bent over to cry into her sweatshirt as she was embraced by a friend and her sister-in-law accompanying her to the trial.

Jurors, listening to the recording, stared into space, only occasionally glancing at Strawn or Paige. One looked back at Albertson.

Strawn asked few questions of Johnson during cross-examination and briefly lost his handful of prepared questions.

The trial will continue for two hours Friday morning, and Paige is expected to call Juneau police Sgt. Jeremy Weske as a witness, just as she did on the second day of the first trial.

The trial will continue all of next week, and Pallenberg told both sides on Thursday afternoon that he is making tentative plans for it to continue through the week of Alaska Day (Oct. 18), if needed.


• Contact reporter James Brooks at james.k.brooks@juneauempire.com or call 523-2258.


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