Alaska Digest

Posted: Sunday, August 28, 2005

November sentencing date set for Harmon

JUNEAU - The man convicted of killing 19-year-old Maggie Wigen in Tenakee Springs got a Nov. 16 sentencing date Friday.

James Harmon, 26, was found guilty in May of second-degree murder, first-degree sexual assault and second-degree theft in the strangulation death of Wigen. He also was found guilty of attempted first-degree sexual assault of Wigen several months before her murder. The woman's body was found buried in an earth dam on April 1, 2003, near the cabin where she was staying in the Chichagof Island community about 45 miles southwest of Juneau.

Under Alaska law, second-degree murder is punishable by 10 to 99 years in prison. The law says the usual sentence for first-degree sexual assault for a first-time offender who causes his victim physical injury is 10 years, and the maximum sentence is 40 years.

Ketchikan Superior Court Judge Trevor Stephens, who presided at the monthlong Juneau trial, held a short hearing Friday, appearing telephonically in the Juneau courtroom set up for the Alaska Supreme Court.

Juneau District Attorney Patrick Gullufsen said he and Assistant Public Defender David Seid had agreed on the Nov. 16 date. Gullufsen said he also had discussed it with Wigen's mother.

Sentencing was not scheduled until Friday because Gullufsen had announced he intended to retry Harmon on the first-degree murder charge, over which jurors deadlocked before finding him guilty of second-degree murder in Wigen's death. He dismissed the charge earlier this month.

State to take over review of roads

JUNEAU - Alaska will assume the role of environmental reviewer of transportation projects from the federal Department of Transportation, state officials said Friday.

The change was included in the recently passed 1,700-page transportation bill and the state is still trying to figure out its implications, said John Manly, a spokesman for the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities.

It permits five states to assume the duties of the secretary of transportation in conducting environmental reviews under the National Environmental Policy Act. Each federally funded transportation project undergoes a review to ensure the project meets NEPA requirements. Under the bill, the state may now take on this responsibility directly, rather than relying on a federal agency to represent the state or local government.

The state already handles one of the biggest aspects of environmental review for major transportation projects such as the Juneau-Skagway road proposal - it publishes environmental impact statements.

"We're not clear on how this really changes things," said Emily Ferry, director of the Alaska Transportation Priorities Project, which has criticized the state this year for embarking on large and costly road and bridge projects.

Manly said the legislation is significant because it could give Alaska more control over the timeline of transportation projects.

The legislation is considered a pilot program, according to DOT/PF Commissioner Mike Barton.

"The new program will not change the rule book, nor will it change the jurisdiction of federal courts to hear and decide any legal challenges," Barton said.

The other states affected by the legislation are California, Ohio, Oklahoma and Texas.

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