Angoon murder trial gets change in venue

Denni Starr's defense and the prosecution agree to move trial to Sitka

Posted: Thursday, August 26, 2004

A woman charged with killing the father of her children will stand trial next month in Sitka instead of Angoon.

Denni Starr was charged with second-degree murder in the July 26, 2003, stabbing death of Richard "Buddy" George Jr. Juneau Superior Court Judge Larry Weeks ordered the trial moved to Sitka, noting that the prosecution agreed with the defense motion to change the venue.

Juneau District Attorney Patrick Gullufsen wrote that he didn't agree with the defense arguments, centering on pretrial publicity, but he has a concern that a guilty verdict in Angoon could be reversed on appeal.

Angoon, a community of about 500 people on the south end of Admiralty Island, is 55 miles southwest of Juneau and 41 miles northeast of Sitka. Although the judge and prosecutor are based in Juneau, Starr was indicted by a grand jury in Sitka.

Representing Starr, Assistant Public Advocate Steven Wells of Palmer argued in his motion to change locations that Starr may be able to get a fair trial in Juneau because of its size. He noted publicity in the case in both Juneau and Sitka.

Gullufsen did not suggest in his response where Starr might find a fair trial. Angoon, though, would not be such a place, he wrote. He figured, optimistically, that jury selection there could begin with 80 available people.

"A significant number of these people are unquestionably going to be related to the victim or the defendant in some way, and of those not related, a high percentage are going to know them on a personal basis," he wrote. He added that he anticipates calling 12 Angoon residents as jurors.

Gullufsen said Alaska courts have reversed guilty verdicts reached in small communities where the defendant and victim are well-known, citing a 1980s Dillingham murder conviction.

Starr, 23, is accused of fatally stabbing George as he was leaving the home they shared. George was allegedly holding their 17-month-old daughter at the time.

Wells has indicated he plans to argue that Starr was abused. His recent filings include notice of his intent to call a clinical psychologist from Anchorage as an expert witness, expecting her to testify that incidents of domestic violence affected her perception of events the night George was killed.

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