Jury weighs Harmon's fate

DA says circumstances in Tenakee Springs killing point only to accused

Posted: Tuesday, May 03, 2005

After three weeks of often conflicting testimony, jurors were set to return to Juneau Superior Court this morning to continue deliberating on the fate of the man charged with raping and murdering Maggie Wigen two years ago.

James Harmon, 26, is the only man the circumstances point to in the Tenakee Springs killing, Juneau District Attorney Patrick Gullufsen said in his closing arguments Monday before the case went to the jury in the afternoon.

Assistant Public Defender David Seid said his client certainly is the only suspect investigated in Wigen's death. But he said the prosecution's "mountain of evidence" isn't enough to amount to a conviction.

"There's nothing that ties James Harmon to Maggie Wigen," he said.

There was no DNA evidence, and Harmon's fingerprints in the cabin Wigen rented only showed he was there for a meal, Seid said.

Wigen was 19 when she was found on April 1, 2003, buried in an earth dam near the cabin on the island community 45 miles southwest of Juneau. People noticed she was missing the previous week.

Harmon, who lived on a boat in the harbor, was paid $35 to do spring maintenance on the dam site the weekend before Wigen disappeared. Troopers arrested him on May 20, 2004.

In Wigen's death, Harmon is charged with first- and second-degree murder, first-degree sexual assault, first-degree attempted sexual assault and second-degree theft. Harmon also is charged with first-degree attempted sexual assault of Wigen in her cabin at the beginning of 2003.

Deena Wisenbaugh testified during the trial that she found Harmon on top of Wigen at that time, with the woman screaming for him to stop. Both had their pants down, she said.

Seid said the witness "had a lot to drink. Everyone was drunk." He suggested the "encounter" was "one of those things that young people do."

When he said Wigen may not have told Harmon to stop until she saw her friend had come in, Karin Wigen, the victim's mother, said "that's bullshit" and walked out of the courtroom."

Ketchikan Superior Court Judge Trevor Stephens, presiding in the case, told jurors to disregard the interruption. Karin Wigen had testified twice in the trial.

Seid later said Wigen's statement was "clearly inappropriate," but he didn't see the point in moving for a mistrial.

Gullufsen said the New Year's Eve incident was a key to piecing together Wigen's murder. Wisenbaugh's testimony was supported by testimony from people who said they saw Harmon carrying Wigen up the steps to her cabin and saw Harmon angry when he later came down the steps.

The testimony showed that Harmon had a motive for the later crime and that he had the strength to overpower Wigen and easily drag her body into the nearby stream, Gullufsen said. There, Harmon could bury her with dirt from his work on the dam, Gullufsen said.

Photos of Wigen's lifeless body tell a great deal about how she died, Gullufsen said. The injuries on her neck and the deeper bruises in her muscles show she was strangled both with the T-shirt she was wearing - pulled over her head from behind - and later with her killer's hands.

Stephens told jurors the difference between first- and second-degree murder lies in whether they believe the killer intended to cause her death or if it happened in the background of a sex crime.

Gullufsen said there is no question that a sex crime was committed, based on medical testimony of Wigen's internal injuries. But he charged that Harmon clearly intended to kill Wigen because he didn't let up the pressure when she lost consciousness.

The theft charge also ties Harmon to the killing, he said. Wigen's mother told troopers when her daughter was missing that at least eight or nine $100 bills were missing from her cabin. Gullufsen also said Harmon had eight or nine $100 bills after Wigen disappeared.

He showed an enlargement of a $500 bank deposit made with $100 bills on April 1, saying the defendant knew he needed to get rid of the evidence.

Responding to testimony that Harmon had complained of not having money for soy sauce before he showed people $100 bills, Seid said it was "maybe just James' griping in general. He added, "there is clear evidence of his parents giving him $500."

Gullufsen also pointed to Harmon lying to state troopers about how much money he had, where his money came from and the last time he had seen Wigen.

He pointed to a "Freudian slip" in one of the interviews in which Harmon referred to Wigen in the past tense before correcting himself.

Seid said, though, that Harmon doesn't have to prove he didn't do it, and that the state hasn't offered evidence against him.

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