Arson suspect faces new charges

Second trial set for July

Posted: Wednesday, June 01, 2005

The man charged with setting a September fire in Auke Bay pleaded not guilty Tuesday to two new felony charges he called "vindictive prosecution."

Rick Gottardi, 46, was scheduled to face a retrial Tuesday because his April trial ended with a hung jury.

Instead, Superior Court Judge Larry Weeks held a status hearing at which Gottardi entered not-guilty pleas to new charges, second-degree theft and third-degree criminal damage. The grand jury indicted Gottardi on the new charges Friday. They allege unlawful actions in July 2004, about two months before Gottardi was lodged at the Lemon Creek Correctional Center in the arson case.

At the hearing Weeks rescheduled Gottardi's second arson trial for July 11. Gottardi remains charged with first-degree arson and misdemeanor oil pollution in connection with the Sept. 21 fire.

Gottardi also said Tuesday he had problems with his attorney and the judge presiding in his case.

"This is not justice anymore or the American way," Gottardi told Weeks.

After his first trial ended with jurors telling Weeks they were unable to agree on a verdict, Gottardi filed a grievance with the Alaska Bar Association against his appointed attorney, Assistant Public Advocate Steven Wells, alleging he was pressuring Gottardi into accepting a plea deal.

Wells said he could not comment to reporters.

During the trial, Wells called six witnesses Gottardi suggested to him, five of whom were inmates with the defendant at the state prison. Gottardi said Tuesday he had 30 possible witnesses in his defense.

"I tried the case one way on April 4," Wells told the judge. "If I try it again, I will try it another way." He said he will do what he thinks best in his professional judgment.

Otherwise, Gottardi "can hire his own attorney or he can try it himself or he can let me do it," Wells said.

Weeks said he would not order Wells to withdraw. He told Gottardi that he could not choose who the court would appoint to represent him.

Before Weeks ended the hearing, Gottardi also said he wanted a new judge to preside in the case.

"I believe I am objective about your case," Weeks said. He told Gottardi he could put the request in writing, but he hadn't yet seen anything from the defendant that would justify his stepping down.

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