Harmon found guilty

Jury convicts 26-year-old of rape, 2nd-degree murder in Wigen case

Posted: Friday, May 06, 2005

Jurors in Juneau Superior Court on Thursday found James Harmon guilty of murdering and raping Maggie Wigen two years ago in Tenakee Springs.

After a three-week trial and more than three days of jury deliberation, Harmon, 26, was found guilty of second-degree murder. Jurors first deadlocked on a first-degree murder charge in Wigen's March 2003 death.

The jury also found him guilty of first-degree sexual assault and second-degree theft, both in relation to the killing. A guilty verdict for first-degree attempted sexual assault against Wigen in the early hours of Jan. 1, 2003, followed.

Ketchikan Superior Court Judge Trevor Stephens scheduled a May 17 hearing to schedule sentencing and discuss whether a second trial will be held on the first-degree murder charge. A conviction on first-degree murder requires a finding that the defendant intended to kill the victim.

Under Alaska law, second-degree murder - in this case committed in connection with sexual assault - is punishable by 10 to 99 years in prison. The maximum sentence for first-degree sexual assault is 40 years. Juneau District Attorney Patrick Gullufsen, who prosecuted the case, said it was too early to say how he will argue at sentencing, but he said he sees some justification for arguing to have the prison terms added together.

"I'm glad there's justice for Maggie," her mother, Karin Wigen, said after leaving court.

She said, though, that she will always miss her daughter, whom she described in trial testimony as her best friend. "Maggie's gone, no matter what happens to James Harmon."

The 19-year-old woman disappeared during the last week of March 2003. Her body was found tucked inside the dirt of a small dam not far from the cabin she rented in the island community 45 miles southwest of Juneau.

Harmon's mother, Janice Jackson, openly wept when Ketchikan Superior Court Judge Trevor Stephens read that the jury had found him guilty of the final charge facing her son - attempted sexual assault.

Among the jurors, one woman with reddened eyes glanced over at Jackson several times and began to cry before Stephens excused them. Before ending the hearing, the judge said he had received a note from jurors asking if post-trial counseling would be available.

Gullufsen said he could understand the jury's reaction to the verdict, although the question was one he hadn't seen before.

Karin Wigen said she wasn't surprised to see a juror having such difficulty.

"It was an intense situation," the victim's mother said. "I couldn't have looked at the post-mortem pictures." Thursday morning, jurors asked for playback of testimony from Alaska Chief Medical Examiner Franc Fallico, who performed the autopsy. They also asked for another look at the pictures and charts he used in explaining his conclusions.

Tenakee Springs resident Robin Hiersche testified last week about the stress the community was under after searching for Wigen and finding her dead. From her home late Thursday, she said she could understand how the jury would be feel stress.

At Snyder Mercantile Co., the only store in Tenakee Springs, on the village's only road, Vickie Wisenbaugh said news of the verdict was getting around Thursday afternoon.

"It's like a terrible relief, a painful relief," she said.

Before Wigen was murdered, there hadn't been a killing in Tenakee Springs since 1906, when one man shot another inside Snyder Mercantile, she explained.

Wisenbaugh said the community has been dealing with Wigen's murder for two years, and many in the community were called to testify for both the defense and prosecution. Her own daughter testified to seeing the Jan. 1, 2003, attempted sexual assault.

The case was rough on the community because all of Tenakee Springs knew everyone involved, she said.

Shelly Wilson, who was Tenakee Springs' mayor in 2003, said she was just glad it was over. "I feel great sympathy for Karin Wigen's family and for James' family."

Richard Jackson, Harmon's step-father, said after leaving court that the family would have no comment. About two hours before people began filling the courtroom where the verdicts were read, the Jacksons participated in the National Day of Prayer vigil that spilled across Fourth Street from the State Capitol steps to the front of the Dimond Courthouse.

No one testified to seeing Harmon kill or rape Wigen in March 2003. There was no DNA and even less specific blood-typing evidence pointing to her killer. Harmon left fingerprints in Wigen's cabin, but Assistant Public Defender David Seid argued the fingerprints were merely evidence that his client had lunch there.

Seid argued that Gullufsen failed to prove where and when Wigen was killed and didn't show who killed her.

Gullufsen's case tied all the charges together. He argued that the Jan. 1 crime against Wigen provided a motive for a future attack on her and that $100 bills Harmon began displaying the week Wigen disappeared corresponded to $100 bills missing from Wigen's cabin. Because he had done maintenance work on the small dam near her cabin the weekend before she disappeared, he had the knowledge necessary to bury her there.

Janice Jackson and Harmon's father, Darrell "Butch" Harmon," testified at the trial that they gave their son his money.

Harmon's mother also testified that her son left Tenakee Springs two days before Wigen was found because she asked him to. Jurors heard from her and other witnesses that Harmon's life had been threatened by people who assumed he had something to do with Wigen's disappearance.

"The jury worked really hard," Gullufsen said.

He began his evidence and ended his closing arguments with the question Harmon asked Alaska State Troopers at his May 20, 2004, arrest. "What took you so long?" he said, referring to Harmon's statement made while his handcuffs were being adjusted in the videotape shown at trial.

Karin Wigen said she was glad to see that everyone worked hard to see the case through. "Patrick Gullufsen and the state troopers are heroes in my book."

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