State Briefs

Posted: Thursday, December 12, 2002

Gov. Murkowski mulls judicial appointments

ANCHORAGE - The Alaska Judicial Council has sent Gov. Frank Murkowski five nominees from which to choose his first two judicial appointments.

The council has nominated Brian Clark, Catherine Easter, Paul Olson, Jack W. Smith and Jennifer Wells as the most qualified applicants for two vacancies on the Anchorage District Court bench. The seats became available when judges Peter Ashman and Natalie Finn retired.

All five nominees work for the state. Clark is with the Office of Special Prosecutions and Appeals. Easter is an assistant public defender. Olson is a hearing examiner with the State Regulatory Commission. Smith is a Palmer prosecutor. Wells is a master for the court system in Anchorage.

State district courts handle misdemeanors and small debt and damages cases. The governor has 45 days to make the appointments.

Barton tapped to be acting transportation commissioner

JUNEAU - Retired state transportation commissioner Mike Barton of Juneau was picked Wednesday to temporarily head up the state Department of Transportation and Public Facilities.

Barton, 63, retired after serving as commissioner for several months under former Gov. Walter J. Hickel in 1994. Barton also headed up the transition team overseeing the department for Gov. Frank Murkowski.

Barton replaces interim commissioner Mike Downing, who was named last week to oversee the department until a permanent replacement is selected. A spokesman for the governor's office said Downing would return to his previous transportation duties and that the move was a matter of convenience.

Barton will assume the commissioner's duties today, the governor's office said. Barton is married to Sharon Barton, who is serving as interim commissioner for the state Department of Administration.

Defendants ask to withdraw plea in murder-for-hire case

ANCHORAGE - Two Anchorage defendants accused of trying to hire a hit man to kill a federal judge and prosecutor have asked a U.S. district judge to withdraw their guilty pleas.

Arnold W. Flowers and Sompong Khamsomphou were indicted in February on charges that they plotted hits on four people connected to an impending bank fraud case against them.

As part of an agreement with the government, they pleaded guilty in June to conspiracy to kill a witness, conspiracy to kill an officer or employee of the United States, and conspiracy to commit bank fraud.

But their new lawyers say their first attorneys gave them bad advice, according to arguments filed in U.S. District Court.

According to the indictment, Khamsomphou, a bank teller, and her boyfriend, Flowers, had been charged by a federal grand jury earlier in February with bank fraud. Soon after they were indicted, prosecutors say, Flowers and Khamsomphou agreed to pay $5,000 cash to an undercover federal agent to kill U.S. District Judge Russel Holland, assistant U.S. attorney Crandon Randell, witness Lisa Chanthaseng and her boyfriend.

They were indicted on the murder for hire plot shortly after.

Searchers recover bodies in Arkansas crash

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. - The bodies of three people, including an Alaskan, were recovered Wednesday, two days after their twin-engine plane crashed in rugged terrain in western Arkansas.

Employees of Anchorage-based Hageland Aviation Services said the company's president Ron Tweto, 40, was among those who died.

Also killed in the crash were pilot John "Jack" McFarlane, 64, of Wichita, and James "Jim" Hennings, 42, of San Antonio, according to Raytheon Corp., which owned the plane.

The three were taking a pre-purchase flight on the Beechcraft 1900-C, according to Hageland's director of operations.

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