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Trial opens in Anchorage home invasion shooting deaths case

Posted: June 27, 2013 - 12:07am

ANCHORAGE — A man and woman suspected of participating in a home invasion are on trial for the deaths of two men police say were their accomplices.

Attorneys presented opening statements Tuesday in the trial of Brian Pfister, 19, and Ursula Pico, 22. They are charged with manslaughter in the deaths of Maurice T.R. Johnson, 19, and Joseph Trantham, 19, who were shot and killed by homeowner Larry James, 55, on Nov. 10, 2011.

Prosecutor James Fayette said Pfister and Pico put their friends’ lives at risk by trying to rob James, who was growing marijuana at his east Anchorage home.

“This is a drug rip robbery gone bad,” Fayette said. James was legally defending himself, Fayette said.

Pfister and Pico helped plan the robbery and took part in it, Fayette said.

“That’s why they’re here,” Fayette said.

The Anchorage Daily News reported that attorneys for Pfister and Pico said James, not their clients, was responsible for killing Johnson and Trantham.

According to investigators, Pfister was the “lay-off guy” with the lookout responsibilities for the home invasion. Pico was the getaway driver. She parked at a Tesoro gas station near the home, Fayette said.

James’ son was in a relationship with Pfister’s sister, Fayette said, and Pfister likely learned that James was growing 30 to 40 marijuana plants.

Johnson and Trantham burst into James’ home and one robber hit the older man with a gun, cutting his nose, Fayette said.

They made a “rookie mistake,” Fayette said, when they told James to open his safe. The safe contained just $80, but also a .38-caliber revolver. James pulled out the gun and fired.

James shot Trantham in the chest, Fayette said. He staggered outside, where his clothing caught on a pole.

“When the police officers arrive, they find him kind of hanging on the pole,” Fayette said. “He was dead, shot through the heart.”

Johnson, mortally wounded, reached the gas station and spoke to Pico, Fayette said.

Pico and Pfister are liable for the deaths, Fayette said.

“Did these two folks act recklessly? The answer to that is not hard. Of course they did,” he said.

Pico’s lawyer, Dina Cale, compared the case presented by Fayette to a “mental game of Twister.”

“They’re asking you to contort your thinking,” Cale said. Blaming Pico for the two deaths would be a stretch, she said.

Pfister’s lawyer, Lyle Stohler, said the same.

“Larry James killed those two kids,” Stohler said.

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