Judge rules prosecutors can withhold witness names

Posted: Tuesday, August 25, 2009

ANCHORAGE - Attorneys for an Anchorage man accused of torturing and killing a nurse practitioner may have to wait until a few days before his trial to get the names of certain witnesses set to testify against him.

U.S. District Judge Ralph Beistline ruled last week that prosecutors can withhold the names of anyone they think would be put in danger by 29-year-old Joshua Wade, who is charged in the death of his west Anchorage neighbor Mindy Schloss.

However, the prosecution must provide sealed evidence to Beistline that the witnesses they choose to exclude would be endangered, the judge's order said.

Schloss disappeared in August 2007, and her body was found the following month in a wooded area in Wasilla. Court records say she had been tortured and shot to death.

Wade, who remains in solitary confinement, faces a possible death sentence if convicted.

Prosecutors say they are worried he will find a way to intimidate or hurt those set to testify against him.

In both state and federal court, prosecutors in most cases provide witness lists to defense attorneys ahead of trial to allow them time to study the witnesses' statements and prepare for cross-examination. The practice helps get the truth before jurors and is considered a basic element of a fair trial.

Assistant U.S. attorneys Steve Skrocki and Stephen Cooper last month filed a motion with the judge saying they do not want to give some witness names to Wade's lawyers, who would normally share them with Wade.

According to prosecutors, a June letter Wade tried to send from jail to a friend castigated "snitches" and gave the address of someone he said was a "major suspect of being a lying rat in my case."

The letter did not explicitly advocate retaliation.

Wade's lawyers said prosecutors had blown things out of proportion. They want the entire witness list by Dec. 1. Wade's trial is scheduled for March.

Still to be decided is the question of Wade's marriage to a potential witness, Lisa Andrews.

Prosecutors contend a jailhouse telephone wedding between Wade and Andrews is a sham to keep Andrews from testifying against Wade. A wife usually cannot be forced to testify against a husband.

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