Second Harmon murder trial set for Ketchikan

Posted: Thursday, July 14, 2005

The man already convicted in Maggie Wigen's killing in Tenakee Springs two years ago will go home to Ketchikan for his second trial on the most serious charge.

James Harmon, 26, still faces a charge of first-degree murder in the death of the 19-year-old woman whose body was found buried in an earth dam near her cabin on April 1, 2003. A Juneau jury deadlocked on the charge when it returned its verdicts in May, finding Harmon guilty of second-degree murder, first-degree sexual assault, attempted first-degree sexual assault and second-degree theft.

Ketchikan Superior Court Judge Trevor Stephens, who was assigned the Juneau case, filed an order in Juneau on Wednesday moving the retrial to Ketchikan. Jury selection is scheduled to begin Sept. 1.

Harmon attended Ketchikan High School. Although he lived in Juneau at the time of his arrest in May 2004, his mother and stepfather, like the judge, currently live in Ketchikan.

Responding to a motion by Assistant Public Defender David Seid, Stephens cited "pervasive and detailed" Juneau media coverage of the case and the monthlong trial as reasons to move it.

"It appears that the state will basically be presenting the same case it presented the first trial," Stephens wrote.

"It is almost certain that the proportion of prospective jurors in Juneau who have heard about the case in the media and have formed an opinion about the case that they cannot set aside will be materially greater for the retrial than the original trial," he wrote.

It took four days to seat a jury at the beginning of April. A footnote in Stephens' order states that evidence of the outcome of the first trial will not be permitted at the second, and potential jurors who know of the earlier verdicts must be excused for that reason alone.

Stephens wrote that he also expects there to be additional coverage as the retrial approaches.

As the second-largest community in the judicial district, it has the largest number of potential jurors to call upon, and, other than Juneau, it is the only community in the district with more than one courtroom, he wrote.

Stephens also wrote that Ketchikan has had substantially less media coverage of the case than has Juneau.

The first-degree murder charge accuses Harmon of killing Wigen, just as the second-degree charge did. The second-degree charge alleged Harmon killed Wigen as part of a sexual assault. The first-degree charge alleged he intended to kill her.

Both murder charges carry a maximum sentence of 99 years in prison. But while the minimum sentence for first-degree murder is 20 years, the minimum sentence for second-degree murder is 10 years.

• Tony Carroll can be reached at tony.carroll@juneauempire.com.



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