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Trial for Angoon murder postponed

Posted: Tuesday, March 16, 2004

A Juneau judge reluctantly delayed the trial of the woman accused of killing Richard "Buddy" George Jr. last summer in Angoon.

It's the second time the trial of Denni R. Starr has been delayed at the request of the state Office of Public Advocacy.

"This is unacceptable," Juneau Superior Court Judge Larry Weeks said Monday, in moving the April trial to Sept. 20 because of a change in attorneys appointed to the case.

Starr, 22, is accused of fatally stabbing George on July 26 at the home they shared. She was scheduled to stand trial on a second-degree murder charge April 5 in Angoon, a community of about 500 on the southwest coast of Admiralty Island.

Starr was released from the Lemon Creek Correctional Center last fall on $10,000 bond. Her conditions of release require supervision by a cousin and grandmother living in the Mendenhall Valley, according to court records.

Attorney Steven Wells appeared on Starr's behalf Monday for the first time, via telephone from his Palmer office. He said he was appointed late Wednesday by the state Office of Public Advocacy and had not yet seen his client's file.

The OPA handles defendants in criminal cases who need court-appointed counsel but have conflicts with the Public Defender's Office.

Weeks said he wouldn't tolerate another delay, even if it means appointing a private attorney and billing OPA.

No motions had been filed in the case since November, when Weeks rescheduled the trial from Dec. 1 at the request of Starr's previous OPA attorney, Darrel Gardner.

Gardner wrote in his motion that he would leave the OPA early in 2004, but he would continue to represent Starr.

"Why is it that Mr. Gardner is not doing what needs to be done in the case?" Weeks asked Wells.

Wells said he couldn't answer that, calling it a question for the office administrator, Josh Fink.

From Anchorage Monday, Fink said he couldn't discuss the reasons he replaced Gardner and said Starr "had every right to expect better from OPA."

He said Wells is an excellent attorney, in whom he has the highest confidence and trust. "He will be a zealous advocate for Denni."

In court, Weeks noted another problem he encountered with the OPA in Starr's case. In September 2003, he ordered the office to show cause why it shouldn't be held in contempt after no one from the office was available to represent Starr at a hearing.

He later said he was satisfied with Gardner's explanation that he had been given the wrong hearing date.

He said Monday that in the future, "the court will do what it has to do" to see that the case progresses.

Juneau District Attorney Patrick Gullufsen told the judge his office had scheduled witnesses for an April 5 trial and would work to reschedule them for September.

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



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