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Jessica Baggen had just turned 17. It was May 4, 1996. Her family threw a party at her sister's Sitka trailer home. She told jokes and laughed with them until 1 a.m. when she headed home. She didn't make it.
According to court records, she was found May 5 in a shallow grave of brush on the campus of Sheldon Jackson College. She had been raped and choked, and dirt and debris were shoved into her mouth. The clothes she wore to the party were gone.
The case brought investigators to Sitka whose later accusations led to a trooper investigation of local police.
Sitka, a town of roughly 8,800, was rocked by the Baggen murder and police were under pressure to find out who did this to one of Sitka's own, said public defender Galen Paine in court in 1997.
On May 15, the police found their man. According to police, Richard Bingham, a 35-year-old janitor at the college, came into the station and said he killed Baggen.
Bingham was arrested and charged with first-degree murder, first-degree sexual assault and tampering with evidence. Sitka police taped what they said was his confession. A trial was underway by June 1997.
Paine represented Bingham and said, according to accounts from the trial, that hair, semen and other physical evidence collected at the scene did not match Bingham's. She also argued Bingham never said he committed the crime. He told police during his taped interview he could have killed Baggen because he was having flashbacks of the crime he thought took place. During the trial Paine asserted that the police had not only coerced a "confession" of sorts from Bingham, but she also alleged police bungled the investigation.
Assistant District Attorney Dwayne McConnell prosecuted the case and argued that Bingham had been drinking that night, had seen Baggen earlier the day she died, had been dropped off near the campus around the time she was murdered and had, most importantly, confessed to the crime.
After a two-week trial and three hours of deliberation, a jury of nine men and five women came back with a verdict of innocent on all counts.
After 13 months, Bingham was free and moved to an undisclosed location in the south, according to Paine. Baggen's murder is still unsolved.