Harmon sentenced to 72 years for murder

Posted: Thursday, November 17, 2005

After hearing Maggie Wigen's mother call James Harmon "a monster," a judge Wednesday sentenced the 26-year-old man to 72 years in prison.

Harmon was found guilty in May of second-degree murder, second-degree theft and two counts and additional counts of first-degree sexual assault and attempted first-degree sexual assault in the death of 19-year-old Wigen, who disappeared in Tenakee Springs in March 2003. Her body was found buried in an earth dam near the cabin where she lived on April 1, 2003.

"James Harmon was a (expletive) monster and deserves to rot in a prison cell," Karin Wigen told the judge before he read the sentence.

Harmon's mother, Janice Jackson of Ketchikan, didn't return phone calls Wednesday night. In August she said she still believed in her son's innocence and didn't believe he got a fair trial in Juneau.

Ketchikan Superior Court Judge Trevor Stephens, who presided in the monthlong Juneau trial, sentenced Harmon to serve 65 years on the murder charge. Under Alaska law, second-degree murder carries a prison sentence of 10 to 99 years.

Stephens sentenced Harmon to another two years on the theft charge and another five years on the attempted sexual assault count, a charge related to actions after a community New Year's Eve party several months before Wigen disappeared.

Harmon will serve a 10-year sentence for the March sexual assault at the same time he is serving the sentence for murder.

No time was suspended from the total sentence. Juneau District Attorney Patrick Gullufsen said that with good behavior, Harmon would be released on parole after serving 48 years. Harmon can apply for the parole board to release him after 28 years if the board determines he is no danger to the community, Gullufsen added.

He said he expects Harmon to appeal.

Harmon has been in custody since May 20, 2004, when he was arrested by Alaska State Troopers.

Jury selection began April 4, more than a month before the panel returned guilty verdicts on all but one of the charges against Harmon. Eventually, jurors deadlocked on a charge of first-degree murder, which required them to find Harmon intended to kill her. With second-degree murder, they determined beyond a reasonable doubt that Harmon killed the woman "in furtherance" of raping her.

Gullufsen later dismissed the first-degree murder charge, eliminating the need for a second trial.

Gullufsen linked Harmon to Wigen by showing that Harmon left Tenakee Springs, an island community about 45 miles southwest of Juneau, with some $100 bills. The theft charge sprung from $100 bills missing from Maggie Wigen's cabin.

Gullufsen, who argued for an overall sentence of between 70 and 99 years, said he was pleased with the sentence.

Karin Wigen said "it will never be over" as far as missing her daughter. She read an excerpt from the field journal her daughter kept on a bear-study project the summer before her death to show "Maggie was a beautiful writer," she said.

"It think the sentence was fair," Karin Wigen said. "I'm grateful I will no longer have to think about James Harmon again."

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