Defense in Wigen killing slaps troopers

Attorneys battle to keep Harmon's alleged confession from being used

Posted: Sunday, March 06, 2005

The man scheduled to stand trial in April for a Tenakee Springs woman's killing told an undercover Alaska State Trooper he felt like a "black man in a white man's world," his attorney said.

James Harmon, charged with killing 19-year-old Maggie Wigen, sat Friday in Juneau Superior Court, a white man in yellow Lemon Creek Correctional Center garb. He was flanked by attorneys fighting to keep his alleged confession from being used against him.

The undercover trooper last year recorded Harmon's statement, in which he lamented he was not well-liked.

Harmon was the man everyone assumed killed Wigen in Tenakee Springs two years ago - and they pressured troopers to get him, defense attorney Julie Willoughby asserted in a motion filed last week. Wigen's body was found buried near her cabin on April 1, 2003.

WIlloughby called Harmon "the Boo Radley of the town," referring to a feared outcast who turns out to be a kind and gentle man in Harper Lee's novel "To Kill a Mockingbird."

In her motion to suppress Harmon's statements to a man her client considered his only friend, Willoughby argued that troopers improperly used psychological pressure and an offer of money to get what they needed to arrest him.

Trooper spokesman Greg Wilkinson in Anchorage said Friday that department leaders could not respond to the allegations.

"The state is drafting its response to the defense motion in preparation for a hearing," he said.

Juneau District Attorney Patrick Gullufsen said he will file a response to the motion before a hearing next Friday.

Ketchikan Superior Court Judge Trevor Stephens is presiding over the Juneau case.

Harmon is accused of murder under two legal theories. The indictment charges him with both first- and second-degree murder. He also faces first-degree charges of sexual assault and attempted sexual assault, as well as second-degree theft, all connected to the killing.

Defense attorney David Seid has sought to have two additional charges of first-degree attempted sexual assault tried separately because they are alleged to have occurred against Wigen and one of her friends after a Tenakee Springs New Year's Eve party more than two months before the killing.

In his affidavit to support Harmon's May 20, 2004, arrest, Gullufsen pointed to the defendant's statements to an undercover officer, which Willoughby wrote were part of "interrogations" on May 9, 10 and 12.

Willoughby described the 26-year-old defendant as "sullen, very large and not too bright."

Harmon suffered from intense depression and once had a breakdown that required hospitalization because he had been sitting outside mute for days, staring into space, Willoughby wrote in a court document.

During a bail hearing last year, his mother referred to a mental-health incident in 2001, when she had to go to assist him in Tenakee Springs, a Chichagof Island village about 45 miles southwest of Juneau.

Harmon boxed briefly, winning his debut bout in December 2001 in Juneau. He was still living in Tenakee Springs when he went into the U.S. Army in 2003. He left for basic training in Fort Benning, Ga., in February, but returned to Tenakee Springs in mid-March.

"They didn't really like me over there (in Tenakee Springs)," he would later tell the undercover trooper, according to the defense motion.

Village residents reported last seeing Wigen around March 22.

Harmon caught the Sitka-bound ferry out of Tenakee Springs on March 30, 2003, after people allegedly harassed him and threatened his life during the search for the missing woman.

Two days after Wigen's body was found, troopers served a search warrant on Harmon in Juneau and detained him for an hour before releasing him.

Troopers and prosecutors "were publicly derided for incompetence, laziness and generally not caring that a young woman had been killed in a very small community," Willoughby wrote.

Although Tenakee Springs residents did not publicly name Harmon last year while demanding an arrest in the case, Willoughby wrote that it was "time to get creative and give the community what they wanted, and what they wanted was James Harmon served up on a silver platter."

Based on information provided by the prosecution, Willoughby said the tapes showed that Trooper Eric Lorring befriended Harmon on March 10, 2004, in Juneau. He told Harmon he was on the run from Kodiak as the target of a sexual assault investigation, according to the defense motion.

"During their three-month 'friendship,' Trooper Lorring repeatedly cooked dinner for James Harmon, watched movies with him, denigrated women with him, took him drinking and went out with him looking for 'hotties,' " Willoughby wrote.

The recordings show that Lorring asked Harmon on April 21, 2004, about what happened in Tenakee Springs, and Harmon said he couldn't say anything on the advice of his attorney, she wrote.

Troopers orchestrated an incident on May 9 at which Lorring took Harmon to at an outdoor boat show at the Nugget Mall, she wrote. An investigator who posed as the best friend of Wigen's mother confronted Harmon, accusing him of killing her daughter.

Lorring drove Harmon to a parking lot after the conversation to talk. Willoughby wrote that Harmon said three times that he couldn't talk about it on the advice of his attorney, but Lorring said his lawyer was "not your friend, man." He told Harmon he wanted to help.

"I mean if you need money, I ... I mean I got, I got money," Willoughby quoted the trooper as saying. "I don't have a lot, but I got some to help you. I got friends that can help you out. You know it's just I need to know what's going on."

"The statements made after Trooper Lorring promised him money for telling him 'what was going on' must be suppressed," Willoughby wrote.

She added that Harmon believed the trooper was a sex offender on the lam and he was "clearly overborne as a result of the intense and relentless psychological pressure and unconstitutional promises made to him by troopers."

Harmon lacked sophistication, had low intelligence and was psychologically vulnerable, she wrote.

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