Alaska Digest

Posted: Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Jury seated for second trial in 2000 death

JUNEAU - Opening statements are scheduled this morning in the second trial for a man charged with second-degree murder in a January 2000 death in downtown Juneau.

Ronald Edward Smith, 39, was found guilty in December 2000 of second-degree murder of 36-year-old Kenneth Ike Thomas, who died of a depressed skull fracture, first-degree burglary and first-degree assault of Alfred Torres, then 27. The Alaska Court of Appeals reversed his conviction in December 2003.

The second trial alleges the same charges.

Just before 5 p.m. Monday, Juneau Superior Court Judge Larry Weeks swore in a jury for the retrial. He told members of the panel the trial could last six days.

The Alaska Court of Appeals reversed Smith's previous conviction when it ruled that a witness was improperly allowed to include hearsay in her testimony.

The first prosecution sought to establish that Thomas was beaten during a robbery near or in his trailer home on Village Street. The jury found both Smith and Rey Joel Soto, now 25, guilty as charged.

Weeks originally sentenced Smith to serve 85 years in prison and Soto to serve 45 years. Soto, whose conviction had not yet reached the court of appeals, agreed in May to drop his appeal and agree to testify truthfully against Smith at the upcoming trial in exchange for a 15-year sentence reduction.

Tongass map ready

JUNEAU - The Tongass National Forest has published a new 36-square-inch color map of the 17-million-acre forest.

The $7 map includes some topographic relief and is about twice the size of its predecessor, published in 1992, said Merrily Jones, the forest's publication specialist.

The map is now for sale at Forest Service offices and visitor centers.

The national forest worked to develop the content for the new map for about three years. It took a private contractor about one year to produce it, Jones said.

The map includes insets with recreation areas and a recreation facility matrix showing cabins and campgrounds and their amenities.

The flip side of the map includes other information, such as: geological history; human history; travel tips; things to do; and Forest Service resource management.

Man arrested on sexual assault charge

ANGOON - Alaska State Troopers arrested a 20-year-old Angoon man Saturday on charges of first-degree sexual assault and first-degree burglary.

Rodney Willis was located, questioned and arrested by troopers after they received a report shortly before 7 p.m. alleging he had forced his way into an Angoon home and sexually assaulted a 17-year-old girl, according to trooper reports.

Willis was lodged at the Lemon Creek Correctional Center.

Strong wind takes down eagle nest

KENAI - One of Alaska's most famous eagle nests will no longer be home to fledglings.

The nest at Eagle Rock - a Kenai River landmark to thousands of fishermen - blew down last week when strong winds knocked over the tall cottonwood tree it sat in longer than anyone can remember.

Kenai River fishing guide Shella Webster said a fishing client pointed out what's left of the broken nest tree.

A search of the ground at the base of the 10-foot tall stump did not turn up any trace of the eagle's nest, however.

Webster speculated that high tides of about 24 feet may have washed away all of the nest materials.

A wildlife biologist from the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge said bald eagles do not retrieve any materials from a fallen nest, but rather abandon the nest and move on, often to another nest they may have used in the area in past years.

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