18-year-old accused in death of woman possibly buried alive

Alakanuk man said he was drunk when he beat 19-year-old

Posted: Friday, May 27, 2005

ANCHORAGE - An 18-year-old Alakanuk man was charged with first-degree murder Thursday in the death of a woman buried - possibly alive - in a shallow grave on the outskirts of the Western Alaska village.

Isaiah Chikigak also was charged with tampering with evidence and escape. Authorities said he briefly escaped from the village jail after he was arrested Wednesday in the beating death of Mary James, 19, a resident of the Alakanuk community of about 665 people.

"This is a pretty horrendous case," said Assistant District Attorney John Novak.

Chikigak told Alaska State Troopers he was drunk to the point of blacking out when he repeatedly hit James with steel-toed shoes until he saw blood coming out of her ears. Chikigak said James appeared to be breathing when he covered her with dirt near the village airport, said charging documents.

James was last known to have been drinking home-brewed alcohol with Chikigak near the airport late Friday night or early Saturday, according to charging documents filed in Bethel. The village, about 485 miles northwest of Anchorage, is categorized as a dry community, meaning it prohibits the sale, importation and possession of alcohol.

Chikigak later told troopers he also had stolen a boat from a villager. Trooper spokesman Greg Wilkinson said there's no indication James was ever in the vessel.

When the boat was found Tuesday, a shotgun identified as belonging to Chikigak was on board.

"There's no indication that shots were fired," Novak said. Chikigak "said he used steel-toed shoes to beat her. They were not on his feet but were being used as an instrument, so to speak."

A woman who lives in the village told troopers she drove James and Chikigak to a trail near the airport Friday night, leaving them there to drink.

Chikigak initially told troopers he last saw James staggering away on a road after they had been drinking together. He later led troopers to the site.

After searchers found James' body, Chikigak confessed, charging papers said.

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