Jurors have questions in Harmon case

Judge asked to explain 'reasonable doubt'

Posted: Thursday, May 05, 2005

Jurors deliberating in the trial for the man charged with killing Maggie Wigen looked twice to the judge for answers Wednesday afternoon.

They left without reaching a verdict Wednesday and were scheduled to return to Juneau Superior Court this morning.

After looking for an explanation of "reasonable doubt," jurors came back later to ask if they could consider the second-degree murder charge against James Harmon without deciding if he is guilty of first-degree murder.

Harmon also is charged with first-degree sexual assault, first-degree attempted sexual assault and second-degree theft in Wigen's death in Tenakee Springs two years ago. The 19-year-old woman was found April 1, 2003, buried in a dam near her home in the community 45 miles southwest of Juneau.

Ketchikan Superior Court Judge Trevor Stephens, presiding in the Juneau case, discussed both of the jury's questions with attorneys before sending back answers. In both cases, Assistant Public Defender David Seid initially said the issues were covered in the instructions given to jurors before they got the case shortly before 1:30 p.m. Monday.

Jurors spent about 17 hours together before seeking a better definition of reasonable doubt.

The response discussed in court restated the law discussed in their instructions. It also repeated that jurors need only be free of reasonable doubt of elements that would constitute the crime, not specifics about what the prosecution alleged happened.

"I would add that if the state doesn't meet every element beyond a reasonable doubt, the state hasn't met its burden," Seid told the judge without jurors present.

"Isn't that what the first sentence says?" asked Juneau District Attorney Patrick Gullufsen. "We repeated it 20 times in instructions."

About two hours after getting an answer to the first question, the attorneys, Harmon, his mother and step-father returned to court, reconvened to address the question about the two murder charges.

During instructions, Stephens told jurors to consider second-degree murder only if they find Harmon not guilty of first-degree murder.

Both charges relate to Wigen's death, but they allege different intentions.

During the 20 minutes Stephens spent Monday explaining the elements of the charges jurors would consider, he defined a first-degree murder as one committed with the intent to kill. If jurors found Wigen was killed in the course of a sex crime without that intent, the killing would be defined as second-degree murder.

Similarly, Stephens on Monday instructed jurors not to consider the attempted sexual assault charge related to Wigen's death if they find Harmon guilty of sexually assaulting her in connection with her death.

Jurors are considering a second attempted sexual assault charge that relates to allegations that Harmon had previously tried to rape Wigen in the early hours of Jan. 1, 2003, in her cabin.

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