Judge declines to throw out Yakutat homicide indictment

The indictment has been upheld in the case of a man accused of killing his girlfriend at a Yakutat lodge over 17 years ago.

Robert Dean Kowalski

Robert Dean Kowalski is scheduled to stand trial next month for the shooting death of Sandra Perry at the Glacier Bear Lodge in July 1996. He’s charged with first degree murder and second degree murder with extreme indifference to the value of human life.

His defense argued for dismissal of the indictment because of parallels to a similar case in Montana that were explained to a Juneau grand jury. Among the most significant claims in the original dismissal motion, public defender Eric Hedland argued that an explanation of the Montana case was improperly introduced evidence.

Established court rules specify that information about other crimes can not be used for propensity evidence, or to show whether a person is likely to commit a certain bad act just because he or she previously committed a similar bad act. Exceptions to those particular rules include crimes involving domestic violence. Other exceptions allow for introductions of such evidence for demonstrations of intent, or absence of mistake or accident.

Juneau Superior Court Judge Louis Menendez denied Hedland’s request for dismissal of the indictment on Tuesday.

Judge Menendez disagreed with the defense’s argument that the Montana case would constitute evidence of a prior act since it occurred after the allegations in the Yakutat case.

He found fault with the prosecutor’s choice of words in instructions to the grand jury about considering the other “partner’s domestic violence situation for whatever purpose you feel is applicable in the case.” But he determined that the defense could not prove that there was any real or lasting error.

In the 20-page opinion, Judge Menendez also wrote the facts for both cases appear to be similar and “involve the same sort of ‘situational behavior’,” and fit within the various exceptions for admissibility of such evidence. He also determined that the evidence is more probative than prejudicial.

Hedland declined to comment on the opinion.

Kowalski, now 52-years old, was convicted of killing his Montana girlfriend, 45-year old Lorraine Kay Morin, in March 2008. He’s currently in custody at Lemon Creek Correctional Center awaiting trial for Perry’s death while serving a 40-year prison sentence for Morin’s death.

The jury trial in the Yakutat case was earlier scheduled to start Nov. 4 in Juneau Superior Court. Electronic court records, however, indicate that Hedland has just submitted a request to continue or postpone the trial. A pretrial hearing in the case is scheduled for Oct. 28.