Yakutat cold-case murder suspect arraigned

Robert Dean Kowalski’s attorney entered a plea of ‘not guilty’ in Juneau Superior Court on Friday.

The 50-year old Montana inmate is being charged with first and second degree murder in connection with the death of his girlfriend in Yakutat over fifteen years ago. A jury trial is currently set for May 29th. But that date may get moved until later in the year because of the amount of evidence, a packed court calendar, and Kowalski already serving a sentence for a separate case in Montana.

Troopers believe that Kowalski stayed with 39-year old Sandra M. Perry at Yakutat’s Glacier Bear Lodge in July, 1996.

Troopers say that a man staying in the next room at the lodge reported hearing an argument, then a gunshot, followed by silence. Kowalski told Troopers that he armed himself with a shotgun after he and Perry heard a bear outside their room. But Kowalski said he tripped onto the bed and fell on top of Perry and the gun discharged when he got up.

Kowalski was never charged for Perry’s death. The prosecutor assigned to the case apparently determined that there was not enough evidence then to disprove Kowalski’s claim of an accidental shooting.

The Alaska Bureau of Investigation’s Cold Case Unit reviewed the Yakutat incident after Kowalski was convicted in Montana of killing another girlfriend there, 45-year-old Lorraine Kay Morin in March of 2008. The Kalispell Daily Inter Lake newspaper in Montana reported that the incident included the arrest of Kowalski after a 31-hour standoff at his home that involved SWAT teams from three jurisdictions. The gun used in the shooting was recovered from his home. Kowalski told investigators the gun accidentally went off as he was falling backward into a chair.

Kowalski’s bail was maintained at $1,000,000.

Public defender Eric Hedland has been initially assigned to the case.

Juneau Superior Court Judge Louis Menendez, who successfully defended a client accused of another shooting at another Yakutat lodge that very same year, will likely preside over the Kowalski trial.