Alaska Digest

Posted: Sunday, November 20, 2005

Fundraiser for soldier to be held Monday

JUNEAU - A fundraiser for Spc. Latseen D. Benson, 26, who was critically injured in Iraq, will be held at noon on Monday at the Alaska Native Brotherhood Hall. An Anchorage resident, Benson's grandparents are from Sitka.

An Army infantry specialist attached to the 101 Airborne Support Group, Benson was injured by an improvised explosive device on Nov. 13 in Tikrit, Iraq. The explosion resulted in the loss of both legs, a finger, an injured eye and shrapnel left lodged in his spine.

Benson is recuperating at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C.

The family has established the Latseen Benson Family Assistance Fund at the Alaska Pacific Bank in Sitka. Benson's aunt, Marta Ryman, can be contacted at (907) 747-3513 for more information.

Fairweather to serve Skagway on Monday

JUNEAU - Without the LeConte available Monday to sail the Lynn Canal, the Alaska Marine Highway System will send the fast ferry Fairweather instead.

John Manly, Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities spokesman, said the Fairweather normally only runs between Juneau and Haines on Mondays, but Skagway will be included because the LeConte still hasn't returned to service. The LeConte has been undergoing annual maintenance in Ketchikan.

The Fairweather is scheduled to leave Juneau at 8 a.m. and arrive in Skagway at noon before leaving at 12:30 for Haines and Juneau. The Fairweather is scheduled to be back in Juneau at 4:30 p.m., Manly said.

Court OKs rejection of arson confession

JUNEAU - The Alaska Court of Appeals last week ruled there was nothing improper in a Juneau judge rejecting the confession of a man who claimed he set fire to Haines Elementary School more than 30 years ago.

Phillip Edward Jackson III was sentenced to five years in prison on Dec. 20, 1973, and served his time, according to state court records. On Sept. 13, 2002, William Hagen voluntarily approached Haines Police Chief Gregory Goodman to say he started the fire, prompting Jackson to file for post-conviction relief.

Juneau Superior Court Judge Patricia Collins held a hearing on the motion and ruled Hagen's statements did not establish Jackson's innocence. The appeals court ruling said Collins concluded from Hagen's behavior on the witness stand that he likely suffered from mental illness.

"The witness testified in front of Judge Collins and we defer to her superior opportunity to judge the credibility of the witnesses," the appellate court wrote in upholding her decision.

Libel claim against Empire dismissed

JUNEAU - Saying "the law is clear" and finding no showing of malice, Juneau Superior Court Judge Larry Weeks Friday dismissed a libel claim filed against the Juneau Empire and reporter Tony Carroll for a front-page story about a lawsuit the man had filed against the city.

Jake Olivit Sr. also sought damages against the city and City Attorney John Hartle, alleging Hartle had told him he would "defame" him on the front page of the Empire if he filed the suit against the city. Weeks said he will consider the city's motion to dismiss the claim and hoped to rule by the end of the week.

The suit concerned an article that ran in the Dec. 3, 2004, Empire, stating it was the fifth lawsuit he had filed against the city. Olivit alleged intentional infliction of emotional distress by Juneau Police Officer Paul Comolli. Juneau Superior Court Judge Patricia Collins dismissed that claim the previous week.

"This was the main article on the front page, in a place reserved for serious things like bank robbery and murder," Olivit said Friday. He was acting as his own attorney in the case.

Murkowski asks corps to allow work at mine

JUNEAU - Gov. Frank Murkowski and the Southeast Conference are petitioning the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to allow continued construction at the Kensington Mine while the agency conducts a review of two mine permits.

Federal attorneys recently told U.S. District Judge James Singleton that the Corps of Engineers intends to suspend the permits while it conducts the internal review.

Environmentalists have sued to block the Corps of Engineers from allowing workers to dump Kensington mine tailings in a lake.

Murkowski met with Corps of Engineers officials in Anchorage last Thursday to urge them to allow continued construction of the mine.

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