Alaska Digest

Posted: Tuesday, October 28, 2003

Pastor acquitted in fatal shooting of intruders at his church

PALMER - A preacher was acquitted Monday of two counts of manslaughter and two counts of criminally negligent homicide in the shooting deaths of two intruders at his Big Lake Community Chapel last spring.

Jurors deliberated for two days in Superior Court before acquitting the Rev. Phillip D. Mielke, 44, in the deaths of Christopher Lee Palmer, 31, of Big Lake and Francis Marion Jones IV, 23, of Wasilla.

"We're relieved," Jim Gilmore, Mielke's defense lawyer, said after the verdicts were read.

Mielke had no comment.

In closing arguments last Thursday, Gilmore characterized Mielke as a mild-mannered man who carried a gun for self-defense. The preacher used it in a "totally unexpected, out-of-control" situation when Palmer and Jones rushed him inside his own church, he said.

"It was like a bear charging," Gilmore said. "The critical feature of this event (is) it happened in a matter of seconds ... and it happened in the dark. ... His fear that caused him to pull the trigger was reasonable under the circumstances."

The burglars were stealing donated food the church planned to give away, Collins said.

"You don't take a gun to protect some old doughnuts," he said. "Those are not the actions of a reasonable person."

NMFS proposes listing Prince William Sound killer whales as 'depleted'

ANCHORAGE - The National Marine Fisheries Service has proposed designating a Prince William Sound killer whale group as "depleted" under the Marine Mammal Protection Act.

A formal comment period on the proposal is now under way. If the stock is found to be depleted, the agency will consider measures to aid the whales.

The agency received a petition from the National Wildlife Federation and six other groups Nov. 13 requesting the designation. The agency conducted a status review and posted its proposal Friday in the Federal Register.

"We are concerned about this group of killer whales," said James Balsiger, administrator for the Alaska Region of NOAA Fisheries. "For genetic, behavioral, ecological and management reasons we propose designating AT-1 whales as separate from the larger population of transient killer whales in the eastern North Pacific."

The AT1 group has been considered part of a larger population of 346 transient killer whales in the eastern North Pacific. Prince William Sound and Kenai Fjords also are home to about 362 resident killer whales.

Resident and transient killer whales have different eating habits, calls and genetics.

The AT-1 group once numbered 22 animals but now contains only nine whales, including four females. No new calves have been sighted since 1984.

In asking for the whales to be designated as a separate and depleted stock, the wildlife groups suggested that effects of the Exxon Valdez oil spill in 1989, chemical contaminants such as PCBs and DDT, increased vessel traffic, and a reduction in available prey species were possible factors in the animals' decline.

Ketchikan borough mayor pleads guilty to DWI

KETCHIKAN - Ketchikan Gateway Borough Mayor Mike Salazar has pleaded guilty to driving while intoxicated. He was ordered to begin serving a mandatory three-day jail term Friday at Ketchikan Correctional Center.

Salazar did not comment on the charges during a brief court hearing last week before District Court Judge Kevin Miller. He answered, "Yes, sir," when Miller asked if he understood what would happen after the guilty plea is accepted.

Salazar was arrested Aug. 24 after police saw his vehicle cross, then straddle, the center line on Tongass Avenue.

Police said Salazar failed a field sobriety test, and a later breath test indicated he had a blood alcohol level of .193. The legal limit in Alaska is .08.

Salazar will have to pay $270 for the costs of his incarceration, plus a $1,500 fine and a $75 surcharge. His driver's license will be revoked for 90 days and he'll have to report to the Alcohol Safety Action Program for an alcohol class. He'll be on probation for a year.

Ex-Wainwright soldier killed in Iraq

FAIRBANKS - A former Fort Wainwright soldier has died in a gun battle in Iraq, military officials said.

Sgt. Mike Hancock, 29, who was known among Fairbanks runners, was killed Friday while on guard duty in Mosul, Iraq.

Hancock was originally from Yreka, Calif., and was stationed at Fort Wainwright for three years before he left in July for an assignment in Fort Campbell, Ky.

Hancock was killed by small-arms fire, reportedly by men who attacked a grain storage facility.

At the time of his death, Hancock was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 320th Field Artillery Regiment, of the 101st Airborne Division. He was the 347th U.S. military member to have been killed since the Iraq war began in March, according to the Department of Defense.

He is survived by his wife and four children.

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