Prosecutors say Harmon not coerced

Alleged murderer of Maggie Wigen refused reduction of $750,000 bail

Posted: Sunday, March 13, 2005

The man accused of raping and killing Maggie Wigen in Tenakee Springs two years ago didn't know he was talking to an undercover Alaska State Trooper before his arrest, but the state didn't violate his constitutional rights, according to prosecutors.

James D. Harmon, 26, left a Juneau courtroom Friday, denied a reduction in his $750,000 pretrial bail for the third time since his May 20, 2004, arrest.

His attorneys have filed a motion seeking to keep statements he made to an undercover trooper from being used at his trial.

Jury selection is set to begin April 5 in Juneau before Ketchikan Superior Court Judge Trevor Stephens.

Wigen, 19, who split her time between Juneau and Tenakee Springs, about 45 miles southeast on Chichagof Island, disappeared in late March 2003. Her body was found on April 1, buried in a dam on a stream near her cabin.

Harmon faces five charges related to Wigen's death. A grand jury indicted him on first- and second-degree murder charges and sexual assault and attempted sexual assault in the first degree. He also is charged with second-degree theft of money in Wigen's cabin.

A recent motion filed by defense attorney Julie Willoughby argued that the Tenakee Springs community considered Harmon the logical suspect, making him the focus of unfair investigative tactics. She compared him to a misunderstood character from Harper Lee's novel "To Kill a Mockingbird," and argued that he was coerced into making a possibly "false confession" to a "false friend."

"Hyperbole in the form of comparing the defendant to literary characters may sell newspapers, but does little to assist the court in resolving important legal issues in a homicide prosecution," said Juneau Assistant District Attorney Doug Gardner in response to the defense motion, which was reported in last Sunday's Empire.

Recent court filings show that in March 2004, Alaska State Trooper Eric Lorring befriended Harmon, who believed he had fled Kodiak to avoid a sexual-assault investigation.

The defense argued that incriminating statements Harmon allegedly made from May 9 through May 12, 2004, came after he insisted he couldn't talk about Tenakee Springs on the advice of his attorney.

"Harmon's statements to his false friend were not coerced, and his free will was not overborne by any words or conduct," Gardner wrote.

He cited rulings by higher courts to support the legality of the trooper's conduct, and he charged the defense with "speculating and making false accusations based on alleged facts."

Defense attorneys Willoughby and David Seid and Juneau District Attorney Patrick Gullufsen said they were not ready to argue the motion Friday. Stephens scheduled a March 21 hearing.

Aside from interpretations of law, the defense and prosecution disagree on at least one factual point.

Gardner wrote that Harmon told trooper Lorring on May 5, 2004, that he was no longer represented by an attorney. The defense disagreed Friday.

Both sides agreed on at least one point Friday. Gullufsen said he could support a defense request to take the jury to Tenakee Springs after opening statements to familiarize them with unique aspects of the community and the scene of Wigen's killing.

Much of Friday's hearing concerned a defense motion to have two of the charges Harmon faces tried separately.

A grand jury indictment charged Harmon with two counts of attempted first-degree sexual assault alleged to have occurred at Wigen's cabin. Harmon is accused of attacking a teenage friend of Wigen's who interrupted his alleged attack on Wigen.

Seid said the New Year's Eve charges were supported by flimsy evidence and would unfairly prejudice the jury by making it appear his client is bad enough to commit later crimes. He added that no one had heard about the earlier allegations until after Wigen disappeared.

Gullufsen argued that the early alleged assault relates directly to Wigen's killing because of some similarities. He alleged both events involved choking, and said Harmon learned from the first event that he could easily overpower Wigen without the presence of her friend.

"And it won't be reported to police," he added.

Seid countered that if Harmon knew the assault would not have been reported, he would have had no reason to kill Wigen.

Stephens said he will issue a ruling on the defense motion later.

Seid also said he would seek to move the trial out of Juneau if local publicity makes it difficult to seat a jury. He proposed a jury questionnaire, which Gullufsen objected to as being too detailed and intrusive.

Gullufsen said that in talking about publicity, the court would have to look at who generated it and whether it was fair.

"The publicity happens when a defense motion is filed," he said.

Gullufsen specifically mentioned the recent motion concerning the undercover trooper.

"That makes good newspaper articles," he said.

• Tony Carroll can be reached at tony.carroll@juneauempire.com.



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