Alaska Digest

Staff and Wire reports

Posted: Thursday, April 07, 2005

Juneau man identified in Petersburg murder

PETERSBURG -Petersburg police have identified Juneau resident Michael S. Gerber as the 29-year-old Alaska Native man found dead Friday morning on a one-way street in downtown Petersburg

Gerber had lived in Petersburg for about five months, and his death has been ruled a homicide, police said in a written statement. The investigation is continuing.

Gerber was discovered between 2 and 5 a.m. Friday near Sing Lee Alley, a one-way street through a historic business area.

Petersburg police ask that anyone who was in the area early Friday contact the department.

The town is also investigating a fatal accident at 9:54 p.m. Tuesday. Petersburg resident Margie Birch, 46, was pronounced dead at Petersburg Medical Center after a two-vehicle accident with her 1998 Chevrolet Corsica sedan and a 1997 Dodge pickup in front of 207 South Nordic Drive.

The pickup driver, a 17-year-old, was following Birch's car south on Nordic Drive. Birch attempted to make a U-turn, and the pickup clipped the side of her sedan as she crossed the roadway.

Marine from Salcha, Alaska, killed in Iraq

ANCHORAGE - An Alaskan attached to a San Antonio, Texas-based Marine Corps Reserve unit has died in combat in Iraq, according to the Pentagon.

Lance Corporal Jeremiah C. Kinchen, 22, of Salcha, Alaska, died Monday in an explosion during combat in Al Anbar province in western Iraq.

The Marine Corps does not usually provide details on its combat casualties, citing security concerns.

The Defense Department says Kinchen was assigned to the Marine Corps Reserve's San Antonio-based Fourth Reconnaissance Battalion of the Fourth Marine Division, according to the Defense Department.

He previously had served in Iraq with the Third Reconnaissance Battalion, Regimental Combat Team Eight, Second Marine Division, Second Marine Expeditionary Force.

Kinchen's mother said her son was a reservist who did not hesitate to serve his country when asked to do so.

"Jeremiah was a great man. He loved his family and his country and he died for his country," said Jeanie Kinchen, reached by phone Wednesday at her Salcha home. "When they said we need you to go he never backed down. He was very determined. Once he made up his mind that was it."

She said her son loved the outdoors, particularly snowboarding, fishing and hunting.

Man arrested after yelling for help

JUNEAU - A man police found yelling for help after 10 p.m. Tuesday near the Mount Roberts Tram downtown ended up going to the Lemon Creek Correctional Center.

Warren Belford, 20, was arrested on a felony charge of second-degree robbery and misdemeanor fourth-degree assault, along with an underage drinking violation.

In Juneau District Court Wednesday afternoon, Magistrate John W. Sivertsen Jr. set bail at $5,000 and said the felony charge carries a maximum prison sentence of 10 years in jail.

"The stakes have gotten a little higher for you," he told Belford, adding that the less serious previous court appearances have concerned underage drinking.

Police reported that they believe Belford tried to take a bottle of alcohol from a 35-year-old man, who fought to retain his property. Belford also allegedly grabbed the chain attached to the wallet in the man's back pocket and struck the man several times in the face.

James Harmon jury selection wrapping up

JUNEAU - The judge presiding over the trial for the man accused of raping and killing 19-year-old Maggie Wigen two years ago in Tenakee Springs said he expects to learn today if he can seat a Juneau jury in the case.

Late Wednesday, the end of the third day of jury selection in case of James Harmon, Ketchikan Superior Court Judge Trevor Stephens asked those not dismissed to return at 2:30 p.m. today. "We should know about the jury, one way or the other," he said.

Assistant Public Defender David Seid motioned before the process started to change the trial location if pretrial publicity prevented a jury being seated.

Before breaking at the end of the day, Stephens said he counted "37 or 38" potential jurors who survived any potential legal challenges from attorneys. He said he wants to find 46 or more to seat 16 jury members. That will include four alternates to be selected at random, if necessary, before deliberation.

Seid said he counted 59 potential jurors coming in for questioning. That would leave about 27 remaining to be brought into court, one at a time, for questioning.

Finding more than twice the needed jurors is necessary because the defense and Juneau District Attorney Patrick Gullufsen will be allowed to strike potential jurors without providing a legal reason before the panel is seated.

Most of the people who can't be seated said they were aware of what they understood as a "confession" Harmon made to a state trooper.

The Empire reported on the defense's opposition to the Harmon's statements to an undercover officer being introduced at trial.

Harmon faces charges of murder, both in the first- and second-degree, sexual assault and attempted sexual assault, both in the first-degree, and second-degree theft.

Anchorage voters back new convention center

ANCHORAGE - Anchorage voters have approved a hotel-room tax hike to pay for a new downtown convention center.

By roughly 51 percent to 48 percent, voters Tuesday immediately raised the hotel-room tax from 8 to 12 percent to pay for the $93 million project.

With all votes counted except absentee ballots still in the mail and some questioned ballots, the convention center was passing with about an 1,100-vote margin. About 1,860 absentee ballots that had been distributed were not part of the count.

Mayor Mark Begich was pleased by the result, something he has been working for since before he became mayor two years ago.

"This is an economic asset to our community," Begich said. "It will create jobs. When the city is willing to invest in itself, we'll see the private business development follow."

Voters in 2002 rejected a call to raise the hotel tax to pay for a new convention center of undefined cost and location, unlike the specific plan they voted on Tuesday. Three years ago, 47 percent of voters favored the center proposal, far below the 60 percent needed then.

This time, the measure needed only a majority of the vote to pass.

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