Alaska Digest

Wire reports

Posted: Thursday, May 25, 2006

Jury acquits man in wife's death

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HOMER - A jury on Wednesday found a man not guilty of killing his wife to collect on her life insurance policy.

The jury deliberated nearly two days before returning the verdict for Jay Darling, 42, said court clerk Cathy Franklin.

Darling reported his wife of four months, Wanda Wood Darling, 23, had died after falling 800 feet from an isolated bluff west of Homer while taking photos in 1997.

Darling testified during the three-week trial that he did not push his wife, who was afraid of heights.

His lawyers said the case against Darling lacked hard evidence, and included speculative theories about Darling's character and his admittedly unusual marriage, which seemed more based on friendship than passion.

But federal prosecutor Crandon Randell, who handled the case for the state, said the case was about two things.

"She would never, ever be at the edge of that bluff by herself. And the insurance," he said in closing arguments.

In April 2003, Jay Darling was sentenced to 40 months in prison after pleading guilty to one federal charge of mail fraud for lying about his income when he tried to take out $3 million in life insurance on himself.

According to prosecutors, Darling told several friends he planned to get life insurance money by faking his own death in a kayaking accident so his wife could collect. His intention was to defraud life insurance companies of $3 million, authorities said.

At the time, federal prosecutors did not say whether they believed Wanda Darling had participated in the alleged scheme.

He applied for the life insurance seven days after marrying Wanda Wood in 1997.

Last year, as Darling was due to be released on that fraud charge, a state grand jury in Kenai handed up the first-degree murder charge.

Anchorage considers ban on smoking

ANCHORAGE - The city's ban on smoking in restaurants and workplaces could soon clear the air in more places under a proposal by city leaders.

The next targets for the ban are bars, bingo parlors and possibly city parks.

A proposal introduced Tuesday would expand the city's 2001 smoking ban to include outdoor sports arenas and stadiums, in-home day-care facilities, within 50 feet of hospitals, clinics, city buildings and schools. Violators would face $100 fines.

A public hearing was scheduled for July 11.

Proponents say they want to protect workers from second-hand smoke, which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention links to lung cancer and heart disease.

Assemblymen Dan Coffey, who proposed the measure with Dick Traini, said the American Lung Association of Alaska urged him to tighten no-smoking rules.

But some bars and other businesses fear losing customers and plan to fight the measure. If people choose to drink or work in a smoky environment, they argue, that should be their decision to make.

"The other side would have us believe that this is strictly a health issue. But we see it as more of an independent and business rights issue," said Frank Dahl, owner of Blues Central and a board member of the Anchorage Cabaret, Hotel, Restaurant and Retailers Association.

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