Trial homing in on time of Wigen's death

Medical examiner says body could have been buried before defendant left island

Posted: Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Maggie Wigen could have been killed and buried a week before her body was uncovered two years ago in Tenakee Springs, the state medical examiner testified Monday in the trial in her death.

Alaska Chief Medical Examiner Franc Fallico said he couldn't pinpoint a time of death, but Wigen could have been in the cold ground days before defendant James Harmon left the island community 45 miles southwest of Juneau.

District Attorney Patrick Gullufsen said Monday in Juneau Superior Court he expected to rest his case this morning, after the defense's cross-examination of his final witness, state trooper Eric Burroughs.

Wigen was 19 when she was found on April 1, 2003, in an earth dam in a stream near the cabin she rented, the week after people noticed her missing. Harmon, 26, is charged with first- and second murder, first-degree sexual assault, first-degree attempted sexual assault and second-degree theft.

Assistant Public Defender David Seid in his opening statements two weeks ago questioned whether Wigen was buried in the dam before Harmon left town during a trooper-coordinated search, the weekend before the body was found.

In cross-examining Fallico on Monday, Seid pointed out there was a precise date of death listed on the death certificate. He asked if the evidence was also consistent with Wigen being killed closer to April 1.

He said it was possible. Earlier he said he found evidence that Wigen was buried shortly after she was killed. The way the blood was settled in her body indicated she had been in the same position, with her feet higher than her head, since not long after she died.

Among Wigen's injuries, he noted scratches on her back and buttocks. Gullufsen asked if those could have been caused by Wigen's body being dragged to the dam.

"Those occurred while Miss Wigen was still alive or still had blood pressure," he said.

Fallico determined that Wigen was strangled to death "in a background of rape." Friday, Tara Henry, who assisted with Fallico at the autopsy by conducting the sexual-assault exam, testified to the internal injuries that led her to the conclusion that Wigen was raped.

In discussing those injuries Monday, Fallico said, "I would expect they would be painful."

Over Seid's objection, he showed the jury a dozen photographs showing bruises he found on Wigen's body.

Fallico explained that he found hemorrhaging inside the muscles in her neck. He found bruising of the left side of her thyroid gland. He found hemorrhaging in her voice box.

Among other injuries, a bruise on Wigen's side would have been consistent with having her clothing forcibly removed, he said.

"She was capable of engaging in a fight for her life," Fallico said. She weighed 157 pounds, and no alcohol or drugs were found in her system.

He said he determined that in addition to the killer's hands, Wigen was strangled by a T-shirt that had been pulled over the back of her head, her arms still in the sleeves. He said there were cloth impressions on her throat.

Answering a question from Seid, Fallico said he didn't note any defensive wounds in his report, but Wigen could have suffered the bruise to her left wrist while fighting off the attack.

Friday, fingerprint expert Lawrence Pippin said almost all of the identifiable fingerprints found in Wigen's cabin matched Harmon's.

Monday, witnesses from the state crime lab did not link the defendant with the victim.

DNA analyst Jessica Cohen said blood stains found on one of the size-13 shoes seized from Harmon in Juneau after Wigen's body was found didn't have enough genetic material to provide a match.

She said tissue debris found in Wigen's vagina came from Wigen. No semen was found with Wigen's body.

There was identifiable sperm found on a comforter in Wigen's cabin. Henry identified it as coming from a previous occupant of the cabin who had moved out of state.

Karin Wigen, the victim's mother, said the comforter came with the cabin, and her daughter had used it as a dog blanket.

• Tony Carroll can be reached at

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