Montana investigators took the witness stand Wednesday in the 11th day of the Yakutat homicide trial in Juneau Superior Court.
Robert Kowalski, 53, has been charged for first- and second-degree murder for the 1996 death of Sandra Perry at Yakutat’s Glacier Bear Lodge. He has claimed the shooting was an accident, but he was charged only after his conviction for a similar shooting of another woman in Montana. Kowalski was sentenced to serve 40 years in prison for the death of Lorraine Kay Morin in March 2008.
The prosecution called Montana investigators in order to show parallels with the Yakutat shooting
Retired Detective Sgt. Patrick Walsh of the Flathead County Sheriff described the March 2008 shooting outside Kalispell, Mont. He described an abrasion and bruise in the middle of Morin’s forehead and a gunshot wound in her chin.
There was around her mouth was what I know as stippling, which is basically unburnt gunshot residue that comes out the barrel of a gun. (It occurred) in the area around her mouth in a circle, fairly small circle.”
Walsh also testified that the forehead abrasion and bruise could have been caused from an imprint of a short-barreled revolver muzzle and front gunsight.
Retired Flathead County Deputy Coroner, Deputy Sheriff, and crisis negotiator Ernie Freebury also testified about various interviews after Morin’s shooting. He recounted various descriptions by Kowalski that the shooting happened after a long fight and a physical struggle over the handgun that included shooting the television in Morin’s residence.
The primary story that he said throughout the three interviews is that he pushed Rainey down into the chair, he went over to the couch alongside, and plopped down in the chair, and when he plopped down the gun went off.”
Before the jury heard from the Montana investigators, attorneys argued most of Wednesday morning over how much evidence could be brought in from the Montana case. Judge Menendez repeatedly expressed concerns that too much time and effort would be spent on Montana events rather than the Yakutat case.
Prosecutor James Fayette offered more late evidence with photos of the Montana shooting and handgun, arguing that it was all relevant.
“The manner in which he killed the Montana domestic partner, Ms. Morin, resonates startlingly with how he killed Miss Perry. Argument, alcohol consumption, single shot to the jaw, poking wound inflicted on the victim, single shot, (and) he remained with body.”
Public defender Eric Hedland objected because it was unfairly prejudicial. He singled out duplicative photos of the Montana crime scene and Morin’s body, and tape recordings of interviews with Kowalski by Montana investigators. As a comparison, Alaska investigators kept transcripts of taped interviews conducted in Yakutat, but destroyed the tapes.
“The irony isn’t lost on everybody else. If Mr. Kowalski would’ve been tried in 1996, the state would not have this evidence. So the state gets to destroy this evidence and then use evidence that is argued as circumstantial evidence of his guilt that didn’t exist for 12 years after that event. That’s a lot of advantages to the State.”
Judge Menendez allowed most of the Montana photos to be used, but not pictures recently taken of the handgun. He also did not allow playback of Montana interviews, and precluded testimony about a 30-hour standoff between Kowalski and Montana law enforcement that occurred after Morin was killed.
The jury also heard from Tony Fredeen, a friend of Perry’s son Jeremy Padgett who overheard a comment that Kowalski made just a few weeks after her death. Freeden acknowledged there were subtle differences in how he repeated the comment. Judge Menendez determined on Wednesday that Fredeen could testify before the jury as long as jurors were instructed about considering the relevance of his testimony.
Trial is expected to resume Thursday with the case going to the jury for deliberations sometime next week.
- The Alaska Native Science and Engineering Program has proposed turning the 70-year-old boarding school into an accelerated high school. Some members of the Edgecumbe community aren't happy about that.
- Nora Edith Thomas is charged with two counts of second degree murder for the death of Christopher Kenney.
- The House passed a resolution that limits committees to working on bills that raise or spend state revenue. House Democrats raised concerns that the rule change would reduce transparency.
- The Juneau School District is facing a sixth year of budget cuts, and it’s handling the budget process a little differently than it has in recent years.