Alaska Digest

Posted: Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Harmon jury selection continues

JUNEAU - People being questioned as prospective jurors for the man accused of raping and killing Maggie Wigen in Tenakee Springs two years ago are told there are no wrong answers.

But during the second afternoon of jury selection, District Attorney Patrick Gullufsen said there is a "naughty word."

People who say they believe they've read something about a "confession" are being dismissed.

James Harmon, 26, is charged with murder, both in the first- and second-degree, sexual assault and attempted sexual assault, both in the first-degree, and second-degree assault in Wigen's 2003 death.

Another 27 people were brought in Tuesday to increase the jury pool, although attorneys haven't finished questioning the 57 brought in on Monday.

Ketchikan Superior Court Judge Trevor Stephens said he is looking to seat 16 jurors, including four alternates to be randomly selected before deliberation.

While some of the 34 people questioned by attorneys during the first two days have been dismissed, Gullufsen told the judge he believed the standard being used to select the panel has been needlessly strict.

"We are excusing a lot of people who would be excellent jurors," he told Stephens.

Stephens said Monday that the way he reads higher court rulings pertaining to juries, people should be excused if they have been exposed to and remember a defendant's reported confession that will not be used at trial.

He also noted that the Juneau Empire's coverage did not refer to a "confession" or the substance of allegedly incriminating statements to an undercover officer that led to Harmon's arrest.

Coast Guard responds to flares

KODIAK - The U.S. Coast Guard launched four missions over the weekend in response to two red flares but found no emergencies, raising the possibility that the flares were hoaxes.

The flares, which appeared to be launched from land, were seen in the Womens Bay area. The first report came in Friday evening and led to the launch of an HH60 Jayhawk helicopter from Air Station Kodiak at around 11:30 p.m. Another call between 10:30 and 11 p.m. Saturday also led to a Jayhawk launch.

A nighttime red flare is an international distress signal. Under such circumstances, the Coast Guard is mandated to follow up with a daylight search, Lt. Cmdr. Winston Leslie of Air Station Kodiak said.

"So twice the manpower or resources are wasted," he said.

Gas line group offers to buy natural gas

FAIRBANKS - The Alaska Gasline Port Authority has made a formal offer to purchase North Slope natural gas from the companies holding leases to the gas.

Under the offer, the port authority would buy up to 4 billion cubic feet of gas daily from producers at a price determined by market value and factors such as transportation and construction costs.

The port authority is a governmental group approved in 1999 by voters in the Fairbanks borough, the city of Valdez and the North Slope Borough. It is proposing to build a gas line from the North Slope to Valdez, where gas would be liquefied and transported by ships to West Coast markets.

Before that can happen, the port authority would have to persuade producers to sell gas, a prospect made less likely by the producers having their own plans for a gas line, one that would go directly to Chicago to serve Midwest markets.

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