Alaska Digest

Posted: Thursday, October 04, 2007

Dividend deliveredto Alaska residents

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JUNEAU - The first of the 2007 Alaska Permanent Fund dividends is going directly to the bank accounts of about 306,000 Alaskans.

The total per person payout is $1,654.

Karen Lechner of the Department of Revenue's Permanent Fund Dividend Division says people will probably find their dividend in their account by they time they get up, or by the end of the day.

The second direct deposit is Oct. 17 when over 186,000 applicants will receive their PFD.

Lechner says an estimated 604,000 people will receive the dividend this year.

Trial opens for man charged in death

FAIRBANKS - A pathologist testified that a Fairbanks woman was alive but possibly unconscious when she was struck by a car and dragged four blocks on a cold February morning.

Dr. Stephen Erickson testified Tuesday in the manslaughter trial of Kevin Garner, 26, a North Pole man accused of killing Catherine Ahsoak, 53.

Authorities say Ahsoak, who was deaf, was lying in the middle of a south Fairbanks street early Feb. 4 when a Honda Civic driven by Garner struck and dragged her to a 20th Avenue home. Ahsoak's frozen body was discovered the next day by a neighbor.

In his opening statement, Fairbanks District Attorney Jeffrey O'Bryant conceded that Ahsoak was intoxicated, with a breath-alcohol level nearly three times the legal limit to operate a vehicle. However, he said, it was Garner's actions that resulted in her death.

"She's dead and he was drunk," O'Bryant said. "They didn't stop. They didn't give any help. And that's what we intend to prove beyond the shadow of a reasonable doubt."

Defense attorney Michael Biderman said Garner likely would be convicted of driving under the influence of alcohol the morning Ahsoak died. However, given the winter weather that night, the prosecution could not prove the car accident killed Ahsoak, he said.

"This is unquestionably a tragedy," he said. "But the evidence will demonstrate there is a whole lot of mystery around what happened that morning."

Both sides spent nearly two hours questioning Erickson, who performed an autopsy on Ahsoak. Erickson testified that Ahsoak suffered a variety of injuries from the dragging, including scrapes to her hands, chest and face and a burn to her right buttock from the car's exhaust. Some injuries appeared to be inflicted before she was dead, while others likely occurred afterward, he said.

Erickson concluded that the way blood pooled in Ahsoak's back indicated she likely died from asphyxiation while she was lodged under the car.

"At that point I felt to a reasonable amount of medical certainty that she was alive when she was run over," he said.

During cross-examination, defense attorneys quizzed Erickson about the effect of alcohol and Benadryl, an over-the-counter antihistamine, found in Ahsoak's body. Ahsoak was found to have more than three times the recommended dose of the antihistamine in her body.

"It's likely the alcohol and Benadryl increased the level of sedation," Erickson said. Depending on tolerance, that amount of alcohol and antihistamine could make a person lose consciousness, he said.

The trial is expected to continue into next week.

Man avoids jail time for selling seal parts

ANCHORAGE - A Native leader on St. Paul Island avoided jail time Wednesday for illegally selling fur seal parts in a case a federal judge described as a conflict between two cultures.

U.S. District Judge John W. Sedwick told Michael Richard Zacharof - the former president of the Aleut tribal government on the Bering Sea island - that the lure of money caused him to betray his values, leaving him banned from the annual hunt, and his family and elders in his community with not enough seal meat to eat this winter.

"He already is paying a great personal price. He will see his family with less than enough to eat... The crime he has committed will deprive others," Sedwick said.

Prosecutors said Zacharof, who was a co-signer in 2000 with the National Marine Fisheries Service in an agreement to help manage the island's fur seals, undermined the trust the federal government placed in him when he sold more than 100 fur seal penises, also called seal sticks, to a Korean gift shop in Anchorage. The penises are sought by practitioners of traditional Chinese medicine to treat erectile dysfunction.

"He has jeopardized the relationship between his community and the federal government," said Assistant U.S. Attorney Aunnie Steward. "Personal greed is what motivated him."

Under the agreement, the tribes are responsible for managing the subsistence hunt on the island 750 miles west of Anchorage. The Pribilofs were discovered in 1786 by Russian fur traders, who enslaved Aleuts and brought them to the islands to hunt fur seals. St. Paul has the highest concentration of fur seals in the world, but the population is one-quarter of what it was and now considered depleted.

Sedwick said jail time was unwarranted. Instead, he ordered that Zacharof be placed on three years' probation and pay a $1,500 fine.

Zacharof's behavior amounted to a "stunning departure" from that which made him a community leader, he said.

"You have let them down. I know you know that," Sedwick said.

Prosecutors said Zacharof sold more than 100 seal penises for $17 apiece. The penises were resold for about $100 apiece. Zacharof took payment in the form of sneakers, sunglasses, free dinners and cash.

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