Defense wants Angoon murder trial moved

Posted: Sunday, April 25, 2004

Angoon, a town filled with family and friends of Richard "Buddy" George Jr., is no place to try the mother of his children for his murder, according to the accused woman's defense attorney.

Denni Starr also has suffered form "prejudicial pretrial publicity" in the Juneau Empire and on a Sitka radio station, Assistant Public Advocate Steven Wells wrote in a motion to move the trial.

Starr is charged with second-degree murder in the July 26, 2003, stabbing death of George at the Angoon home they shared. Attorneys project that her trial, scheduled to begin Sept. 20, will take 14 days. It has been planned for Angoon.

The state has not responded yet to Wells' motion to move it.

Alaska State Troopers, who investigated the case and arrested Starr, reported that they believe the woman, now 24, stabbed George in the back with a kitchen knife while he was attempting to leave their home with their 17-month-old child. George and Starr also were parents to a 6-year-old child.

Wells wrote that despite prejudicial publicity, Starr may be able to get a fair trial in Juneau because of the city's size. Only about 500 people live in Angoon, an Admiralty Island community about 55 miles southwest of Juneau. Starr's attorney questioned whether the typical examination of prospective jurors there would uncover their true feelings toward the defendant.

He alleged that George's relatives have attacked Starr's reputation in the community and have referred to her as "a murderer deserving of a great deal of jail time."

Wells also counted 12 Empire articles that had been written about the case since early April, from front-page articles to short pieces among other items of court news. Sitka's Raven Radio, on KCAW, ran about six stories, he added.

"If Ms. Starr had been charged with burglary, it is extremely doubtful that news of her bail conditions or trial continuances would have merited the news," Wells wrote.

One of the three Empire articles he cites as being particularly prejudicial was a story in August about the frustration of Tenakee Springs residents over the investigation into the spring death of Maggie Wigen after troopers had made a quick arrest in the Angoon killing. Starr is mentioned by name once in the story.

Wells wrote that comparing Starr to the killer of Maggie Wigen will prejudice jurors against her.

He also cited a story from August about Juneau Superior Court Judge Larry Weeks preventing Starr from seeing her children. The story said Juneau District Attorney Patrick Gullufsen had argued that the older child was a prosecution witness in the case and the younger one was an alleged victim of a reckless-endangerment charge related to George's death.

Wells wrote that to someone unfamiliar with court proceedings and the fact that defendants are commonly prohibited from having contact with victims, "this could make Ms. Starr sound dangerous as someone who could potentially harm her children."

He also wrote that a story in March reported innuendo from discussion before the judge about Starr's behavior while released from prison and awaiting trial.

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



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