Harmon to be retried for 1st-degree murder

Posted: Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Already convicted of second-degree murder in the 2003 slaying of Maggie Wigen in Tenakee Springs, James Harmon now faces an August trial on first-degree murder in the 19-year-old woman's death.

Juneau District Attorney Patrick Gullufsen said Tuesday the state will continue to pursue the most serious charge jurors considered at Harmon's April trial. Jurors deadlocked on the first-degree murder charge, but found Harmon guilty of four other felonies, including first-degree sexual assault.

Participating in Tuesday's Juneau hearing by telephone, Ketchikan Superior Court Judge Trevor Stephens scheduled the trial to begin Aug. 29.

The difference between a first- and second-degree murder conviction could be 10 years for the defendant. While Alaska law sets the maximum prison sentence for each offense at 99 years, the 10-year minimum sentence for second-degree murder is half the minimum for first-degree murder.

Stephens originally planned to set a date for Harmon's sentencing Tuesday, but he said he would rather not while a more serious charge is pending. Harmon has been held without bail at the Lemon Creek Correctional Center since the trial.

As for the next trial, Assistant Public Defender David Seid suggested he "move it right now to Ketchikan."

He said it took four days to select a jury in Juneau because of pretrial publicity, and during the trial, there was daily news coverage of its progress. "There was continuous coverage, based on the notoriety of the case."

Gullufsen said it was premature to make the assumption that Harmon could not get a fair trial in Juneau.

Stephens directed Seid to file his arguments, with newspaper stories attached, within a week.

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

Harmon was convicted of killing her while raping her.

The first-degree sexual assault charge carries a maximum prison sentence of 40 years, but a usual sentence of eight years. Jurors also found Harmon guilty of second-degree theft in Wigen's death and found him guilty of attempted first-degree sexual assault against Wigen in the early hours of Jan. 1, 2003.

Before Tuesday's hearing, Gullufsen faxed Stephens his intention to dismiss another attempted first-degree sexual assault charge, alleging a second victim in the beginning of 2003. Stephens ruled before the first trial that arguing that charge along with the charges involving Wigen would have been prejudicial.

Gullufsen said later he had talked with the alleged victim and asked that the dismissal be made without prejudice, leaving open the possibility it could be reinstated at a later date.

Seid said he plans to file an appeal after Harmon is sentenced.

"James wants to appeal his conviction, and he should," he said.

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