Tapes show Harmon was early suspect

Juneau district attorney begins presenting his case in Wigen murder

Posted: Thursday, April 14, 2005

During the search for Maggie Wigen two years ago in Tenakee Springs, the 26-year-old man now standing trial in her killing said he and the woman had one thing in common.

"She keeps to herself, and I keep to myself," James Harmon said in a tape-recorded police interview played for jurors Wednesday. He told Trooper Christopher Umbs he had no idea where she was. "I'm not responsible for her."

Wigen, 19, was found the next week, buried in an earth dam in the stream near the cabin she had rented. Harmon, who was hired to work on the dam, is charged with murder, both in the first- and second-degree, and with first-degree sexual assault, first-degree attempted sexual assault and second-degree theft.

Wednesday, when Juneau District Attorney Patrick Gullufsen began presenting his case, Umbs testified when he went to the boat where Harmon was living that he was still under the impression that Wigen was merely lost.

He knew things were more serious when he saw cartons of Hershey's chocolate milk on the boat, he added, having seen the same thing in Wigen's cabin.

On the tape, jurors heard Harmon say he hadn't been to Wigen's cabin since the previous year.

Wigen didn't drink chocolate milk and wouldn't drink milk out of a carton, her mother, Karin Wigen, testified earlier in the day. "She has a different way of feeding herself."

Her daughter believed in organic food, she said. For three months in 2001, she worked on an organic farm in New Mexico. In early 2002, she spent a month in Belize at another organic farming site.

Karin Wigen went to Tenakee Springs when she received word her daughter was missing, she testified. While the milk cartons gave her cause for concern, a discovery she made on the cabin's porch the day before her daughter was found was more chilling.

A pair of sweat pants turned inside out was covered with human feces, she said. It was the last pair of pants she had brought with her when she left Juneau earlier in the month.

"I assumed she was dead," Karin Wigen said.

When Gullufsen asked about her relationship with her daughter, she said the two of them were the most important people in each other's lives.

"It was very important to Maggie to believe the world is inherently a good place and people are inherently good," her mother said. "She was naive in some ways. She gave people the benefit of the doubt."

Maggie Wigen was born in Juneau and lived for about 10 years in Washington state before returning at the age of 14. Her mother said she spent two months at Juneau-Douglas High School before she quit to get her high school equivalency certificate.

"Maggie was incredibly bright," her mother said, explaining that she scored 1300 out of 1600 on an SAT college-entrance exam when she was in the seventh grade. She said that high school seniors were averaging only 1050 at the time.

She had some initial concern about letting her daughter move to Tenakee Springs in 2001 when she was 17, but she relented.

"My feeling was it was a very small and safe community," she said.

Gullufsen asked if her daughter told her about a deer-hunting experience with Harmon.

"She said it was unpleasant," Karin Wigen said, summarizing what she said her daughter told her in early 2003.

On cross examination, Assistant Public Defender David Seid asked if her daughter had said anything about Harmon attempting to rape her in the cabin after a New Year's Eve party, as he is charged with doing.

She hadn't mentioned it, Karin Wigen said, though she added that she could think of reasons her daughter wouldn't have told her. "She wouldn't want to worry me," she said. "And had I known, I probably would have acted aggressively and brought attention to her."

Umbs said that while the audio recording didn't include Harmon's denial, he did deny the allegations before taping began.

Wednesday's testimony began with trooper Sgt. Randel McPherron introducing the videotape of what Harmon said after his May 20, 2004, arrest.

Seid objected to the tape, not because of what his client said as he was having the handcuffs put on him - "What took you so long?"

Seid objected to the response from McPherron - "It's our job, being thorough."

Out of the presence of jurors, Gullufsen argued that Seid had agreed to let the tape be shown when the prosecution agreed not to introduce statements Harmon allegedly made to an undercover trooper before had arrest.

Seid dropped the objection.

"I don't think it's worth a mistrial or relitigating the matter (of the undercover trooper)," Seid said.

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

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