Murder-trial closing set for Monday

Witness: Wigen's burial could have happened not long after her death

Posted: Sunday, May 01, 2005

Maggie Wigen wasn't long dead when she was buried where searchers found her in Tenakee Springs two years ago, an investigator told jurors Friday before testimony closed in the trial for the man charged with killing her.

Jurors are scheduled to hear closing arguments Monday morning in Juneau Superior Court before deliberating the fate of James Harmon, 26, charged with first- and second-degree murder, first-degree sexual assault, first-degree attempted sexual assault and second-degree theft in Wigen's death.

William Gibson, from the Alaska State Troopers, was called in the state's rebuttal after Harmon's attorneys rested their case Thursday. Over Assistant District Attorney David Seid's objection, his crime scene analysis showed that Wigen could have been buried before Harmon left the island.

In three weeks of testimony, jurors heard detailed medical testimony explaining conclusions that Wigen was strangled to death and raped. The state produced no one who saw the crime and no DNA evidence pointing to her killer, but Harmon's fingerprints were found in the cabin she rented.

Wigen, 19, was found on April 1, 2003, in a small dam in a stream near the cabin in the island community 45 miles southwest of Juneau. A formal search for her had begun five days earlier. Harmon was paid $35 to do spring maintenance work at the dam the weekend before Wigen disappeared.

Gifford said her burial "could have happened right after death or within several hours of death - certainly not more than a few hours after death."

Juneau District Attorney Patrick Gullufsen, out of the presence of jurors, argued that Gifford's conclusions addressed a defense theme.

He said he needed to respond to defense witnesses questioned about dogs' inability to find Wigen during the trooper-supported search during the last weekend of March 2003, and to witness Dave Zeiger's testimony that the dam looked different when Wigen was found the next Tuesday.

"The whole implication of Mr. Zeiger's testimony was that after Mr. Harmon left (Tenakee Springs) on the ferry Sunday, someone buried Miss Wigen there," Gullufsen said.

Superior Court Judge Trevor Stephens, presiding in the case, found the testimony appropriate as a response to the defense.

Gifford said the discoloration on Wigen's skin from the blood settling after her death was consistent with the position in which she was found. Her feet were 8 inches higher than her shoulders, and the shoulders were correspondingly darker from the pooling of more blood, he explained.

He also found evidence that the blanket atop her body had been there since a short time after her death and that it was compressed by weight, such as the dirt that covered her in the grave.

Trooper Eric Burroughs told jurors Friday that he had seen the dam on the Saturday of the search and later did not notice the changes that Zeiger testified about on Wednesday.

Tenakee Springs resident Robin Hiersche testified that when she arrived home on the ferry the Sunday night of the search, she learned what was going on and was worried about the stress that Zeiger was under.

"I saw my friend (Zeiger) having what you'd call, in non-medical terms, a meltdown," she said. As a certified emergency medical technician who has taken specialized courses in critical stress management, she said it was something she watched for.

The entire community was under a great deal of stress, Hiersche said.

Under cross-examination, Seid asked if another searcher had a seizure the day Wigen was found.

"Nobody else stood out like Dave," Hiersche said.

There has been little common ground between the defense and prosecution during the trial.

Without DNA identification, which has been used in American courts for fewer than 20 years, and without eyewitness testimony to Wigen's killing, Gullufsen attempted to show through his witnesses that the defendant took $100 bills known to be in Wigen's cabin. Harmon suddenly flashed money including $100 bills in the island village the same week he complained he couldn't afford soy sauce for his rice, witnesses said.

Harmon did not testify at trial, but in a recording of troopers questioning him in Tenakee Springs, he said the U.S. Army gave him the money when he left his brief enlistment earlier in the year. The statement was contradicted by testimony from an Army payroll officer.

The defense began its case by calling Harmon's parents, who said they gave their son money and that he was good at saving and didn't spend much money.

The defendant's father, Darrell "Butch" Harmon, testified to commonly using $100 bills and said he gave James Harmon money before his son deposited five $100 bills at Wells Fargo Bank in Juneau on April 1, 2003.

On Friday, state trooper Sgt. Randel McPherron testified that Butch Harmon told him he gave his son about $100 to $150 between his return from the Army and the bank deposit. The older Harmon said it was probably in $20 bills, McPherron added.

• Tony Carroll can be reached at

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