Harmon judge says no to trial relocation

Defense attorney's claim of Juneau residents' 'unrevealed prejudice' rebuffed

Posted: Sunday, April 10, 2005

The Juneau jury selected for the trial of the man charged with raping and killing Maggie Wigen two years ago in Tenakee Springs hasn't been tainted by pretrial publicity, the presiding judge ruled Friday.

Opening statements in the trial for James Harmon are scheduled for Monday. It took four days last week for Ketchikan Superior Court Judge Trevor Stephens and attorneys to select a jury.

Harmon 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 theft relating to the death of Wigen, who was 19 when her body was found buried in a dam in a stream near the cabin she rented.

After jurors were sent home Thursday for the weekend, Assistant Public Defender David Seid renewed a motion to move the trial out of Juneau. He argued that the number of people who knew about the case indicated the community harbors "unrevealed prejudice."

Seid suggested there probably would be less prejudice in Ketchikan. Harmon went to high school in Ketchikan and his mother lives there.

Juneau District Attorney Patrick Gullufsen noted that the publicity was not always advantageous to the state. Some stories repeated "vehement attacks" made by Harmon's attorneys against the crime's investigators and prosecutors.

Stephens said he didn't consider Seid's motion frivolous, but from the questioning he believes the jury can be fair and impartial. He added that Juneau is one of the largest cities in Alaska.

The issue isn't about counting the number of newspaper stories, he said.

"Otherwise you would never be able to seat a jury in any community of any size with a media presence," he said.

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

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