With 22 witnesses, two defendants and three lawyers, the cast of characters in the Juneau Superior Court murder trial of Ronald E. Smith and Rey Joel Soto is a large one.
And, in a sense, Kenneth Ike Thomas, the man Smith and Soto are accused of murdering, is also a silent witness in the proceedings that began Monday and are expected to continue for the coming week.
Thomas, 36, sometimes worked as an inserter for the Juneau Empire, his work history with the paper going as far back as its old headquarters downtown, said circulation manager Fred Howard.
Thomas' mother, Betty Torres, is also the mother of Alfred Torres, the second person beaten Jan. 25 in an assault near and/or in a trailer on Village Street. The family moved to Juneau from Angoon "before I was even born," said Alfred Torres, 27. Torres said that Thomas was protecting him from physical attack by assailants on Jan. 25 when his brother received the blow that resulted in his death a day later.
Court records show Thomas sometimes was in trouble with the law. He was arrested for sixth-degree misconduct involving a controlled substance in June 1999. He was found guilty Aug. 24, 1999, fingerprinted, fined $50 and placed on probation for one year.
In 1993, Thomas was found guilty of disorderly conduct and sentenced to six months probation for urinating on a downtown building and sidewalk. Records said he was unemployed and had no assets at the time.
REY JOEL SOTO
"He is deeply missed," Thomas' friend of 20 years, David George, said on Thursday. "We grew up together. He didn't deserve what he got. He wasn't a mean person. He helped people out if they just asked."
Ronald E. Smith, 34, has lived in Juneau for about five years, said his public defender, Darrel Gardner of Anchorage. According to Gardner, Smith has worked as a personal trainer with private clients and as a security guard at clubs.
Court records show Smith has been a defendant in several previous cases. He was charged with assault and found guilty of disorderly conduct stemming from an offense of Nov. 22, 1997, when he pulled a man from his vehicle, kicked him in the head and punched him in the head, face and stomach. He failed to appear for his pre-trial hearing, which added a charge to his record. He was sentenced in July 1998 to 90 days in jail with 80 suspended; fined $200; and placed on probation for two years.
Rey Joel Soto, 21, moved from Puerto Rico to Juneau about a year ago, said his sister, Jackie Torres (no relation to Alfred). "He has been wanting to come up here for years," she said Friday during a break in court proceedings. He earned his living in Puerto Rico working in construction. Since coming to Alaska he has attended the University of Alaska Southeast, taking courses in accounting and English, Jackie Torres said.
Abi Chidambaram, forensic expert with the state crime lab in Anchorage, testified she found Kenneth Thomas' blood on the left leg of jeans worn by Soto on Jan. 25.
Soto testified Friday the blood got onto his clothes on the general melee. "When I went toward Smith, he had been fighting a couple of punches and blood splattered on me."
Soto said he never had physical contact with Alfred Torres and never wore a ski mask during the incident at the trailer.
Alfred W. Torres Sr. is a half-brother of Kenneth Thomas. He testified Tuesday he was watching "Blair Witch Project" with Thomas and others when two men wearing ski masks arrived, and one pointed a shotgun at his head. He was yanked out of the trailer, beaten, ordered back into the trailer and hit in the mouth with the shotgun while one assailant searched cupboards. He turned over his wallet and a large, insulated drinking mug with six grams of marijuana in it.
Zachary Brown is a friend of Ron Smith. He purchased a Mossberg 12-gauge shotgun with pistol grips at Fred Meyer on Jan. 20.
Kyle Nalan turned 21 on Jan. 25. He waited until just after midnight Jan. 24 to celebrate his birthday with a 12-pack of beer, most of which he consumed before 3 a.m. He went to the apartment of his friend Zachary Brown, Apt. D of Heritage House, to sleep for a while. He testified Thursday that Smith and Soto came in about 3:30 or 4 a.m. "Ron asked Zach if he could borrow his shotgun. He insisted and took the shotgun and went out. I think maybe he said, 'I will bring it right back,' " Nalan testified.
Rey Soto testified Friday that he and Smith did not make any stops on the way to buy a gram of marijuana from Kenneth Thomas.
The use of dangerous weapons in an assault and/or robbery increases the severity of the crime. Assistant District Attorney Sue McLean produced records showing a Mossberg was purchased by Brown at Fred Meyer a few days before the crime and recovered from a rocky ledge in the woods off Basin Road a few days after the crime. Police were led to the gun by Brown's lawyer, David Mallet.
Ann Chandonnet can be reached at achandonnet@juneauempire. com.