Gottardi anticipates next trial, wants new lawyer

Suspect alleges assistant public advocate wants to force him into a plea deal

Posted: Monday, April 11, 2005

The next time Rickey Gottardi stands trial on charges alleging he set fire to DeHart's Marina in September, things will be different, he said Friday.

The day after a jury failed to reach a verdict in his first trial and Assistant District Attorney Doug Gardner said the state would retry him, Gottardi said from the Lemon Creek Correctional Center that next time he will take the witness stand to proclaim his innocence. He didn't do that last week on the advice of his attorney, he added.

Gottardi also said Friday that he will be looking for a new attorney and plans to file a grievance with the Alaska Bar Association against his current one.

Gottardi is charged with first-degree arson, first-degree criminal damage and misdemeanor oil pollution stemming from the fire in Auke Bay in the early hours of Sept. 21.

He alleges Assistant Public Advocate Steven Wells is trying to force him to take a plea deal that would send him to prison for 10 years on a charge of attempted first-degree arson.

"I thought we were fighting a pretty good case," Gottardi said, insisting he told Wells from the beginning that he wasn't going to plead guilty to anything because he didn't do anything.

He said Wells told him the split on the jury was 8-4, but he doesn't know if the majority was in favor of his guilt or his acquittal. "He said if I didn't take the deal, he would intentionally sabotage my trial."

Gottardi said he hasn't had many opportunities to talk with Wells. "He's 1,300 miles away in Palmer."

From his office in Palmer, which handles court-appointed cases statewide when conflicts arise with public defenders, Wells said he was not aware that Gottardi wanted him to withdraw from the case.

He said he is forbidden from commenting on Gottardi's claims because communications with clients are privileged. But he added that he has never sabotaged a case and has "a duty to zealously represent my clients."

If he were to sabotage a client's case, he probably would face substantial discipline from the Alaska Bar and lose his job, he said. The client would be able be able to appeal any such conviction, claiming ineffective counsel, he noted.

At the trial, Wells accused two prosecution witnesses of starting the fire. Friday, Gottardi said he believes they started the fire to get him arrested in an effort to try to get his boat.

However, Gottardi said Wells could have called more witnesses in the case. In addition to calling more people who could have discredited the prosecution witnesses, the defense could have disputed some of what law enforcement and fire officials testified to.

At trial, Gardner presented testimony to show his clothes smelled of diesel and his fingers were black. He said the diesel smell came because he repaired engines on his boat. He asked to have tests done on his fingers to show the black came from smoking down cigarettes he rolled himself, but police turned him down, he alleged.

"If I had started the fire, I would have been halfway to Haines," he said, explaining that it wouldn't have been smart to set a fire in Auke Bay when he lived in Auke Bay.

Prosecutors, Gottardi said, don't have the evidence to convict him.

He said his brother was murdered in the 1980s in Gustavus, and no charges have ever been filed in the case despite the state having have more evidence against the killer than the state has against him in the arson case.

"They do not like Rickey Gottardi," he said.

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



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