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Alaska Digest

Posted: Tuesday, June 29, 2004

Harmon attorneys propose later trial date

JUNEAU - August will be too soon to try the man charged with killing 19-year-old Maggie Wigen in Tenakee Springs last year, according to his attorneys.

James Harmon, 25, was arrested in May and indicted by the grand jury on seven felony counts, including first-degree murder and first-degree sexual assault. Wigen's body was found on April 1, 2003, in the Chichagof Island community.

Ketchikan Superior Court Judge Trevor Stephens held his first hearing in the matter Monday since being assigned the case. Hooked up to a Juneau courtroom by telephone, he said he wanted an idea of how realistic the current Aug. 23 trial date is.

Juneau District Attorney Patrick Gullufsen said the date was set because it fit Judge Larry Weeks' calendar. He also said the prosecution could be ready to go to trial.

Representing the defense team, Assistant Public Defender Julie Willoughby asked for a trial in February or March. "There's no way we can be prepared (for Aug. 23)," she said.

Gullufsen said that from the state's perspective, February or March "would be out of the realm of reasonableness."

He said the state would have turned over to the defense evidence it has against Harmon by the end of this week or early next.

Willoughby said she understands there hasn't been a case of such magnitude in Southeast Alaska that has gone to trial within nine months of arraignment.

Stephens asked the defense to file a motion for a later trial date, and he would take up the matter at a July 16 hearing.

Secretary of treasury pushes for development

ANCHORAGE - Alaska has the potential to play a vital role in energy production for the United States by developing its resources and bringing them to market, the U.S. treasury secretary said Monday.

Secretary John Snow said this country is too dependent on unstable areas of the world for its energy supply now.

"Alaska has the ability to make the U.S. much more energy-self-sufficient," Snow said.

Opening up Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling and also building a pipeline to carry an estimated 35 trillion cubic feet of stranded natural gas on the North Slope to Canada and the Lower 48 would create jobs and generate prosperity, Snow said.

Oil development in the refuge's coastal plain has been a key element of President Bush's energy agenda, and it has been heavily debated in Congress over the years.

The House has approved drilling in the refuge in the past, only to have it repeatedly fail in the Senate. Earlier this month, a House proposal to allow drilling in ANWR was withdrawn for fear it didn't have the votes to pass.

Currently the United States imports about 56 percent of the oil it consumes. An Energy Information Administration report from March said that while drilling in ANWR would raise domestic production, impact on oil prices would be negligible - perhaps 30 cents to 50 cents a barrel if prices were in the $27-a-barrel range.

Environmentalists oppose drilling in the refuge, contending that it should be protected for calving caribou, polar bears, musk oxen and the millions of migratory birds that use it during parts of the year.

Panel investigates proposed jet purchase

JUNEAU - A legislative committee is asking questions about the proposed purchase of a jet that would be available part of the time for Gov. Frank Murkowski's use.

The aircraft - if it is purchased - would replace an existing propeller-driven plane, which would be sold, according to the Department of Public Safety.

Rep. Eric Croft, D-Anchorage, has been critical of the Republican administration's plan to spend $2 million in federal homeland security funds on the jet. He asked the Legislative Budget and Audit Committee to look into the plan.

The committee's chairman, Rep. Ralph Samuels, R-Anchorage, sent a letter to the departments of Public Safety and of Military and Veterans Affairs saying he's not ordering a full audit, but he would like some questions answered.

Samuels said he's taking that approach partly because a full audit could take a year to 18 months.

"If they don't answer the questions, then, of course, we'll possibly look at the audit," Samuels said.

Among other questions, Samuels is asking what homeland security purpose the new aircraft would fill that is not being met by the existing turboprop. He also asked if the state has ranked its unmet homeland security needs and what it would spend the money on if the aircraft is not purchased.

Gretchen Pence, a special assistant to Public Safety Commissioner Bill Tandeske, said the department should have a reply to Samuels' letter by the end of the week.



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