After three weeks of delays, hot tempers, and sometimes tedious testimony, the Robert Kowalski homicide case could soon be in the hands of a jury.
Kowalski’s defense on Friday completed questioning the investigating officer for the July 1996 homicide in the Yakutat Glacier Bear Lodge. Coincidentally, retired Alaska State Trooper Sgt. Randel McPherron picked up the case again during his recent assignment to the Alaska Bureau of Investigation’s Cold Case Unit.
Kowalski is charged with first and second-degree murder for the death of Sandra Perry in Room 10 of the lodge.
Investigators took another look at the Yakutat case after Kowalski was convicted and sentenced to serve 40 years in prison for the death of Lorraine Kay Morin near Kalispell, Mont. in March 2008. Prosecutors believe there are striking similarities between the two cases.
On Friday, McPherron explained Kowalski’s alternate versions of the event in two interviews conducted just a few days after Perry’s death. McPherron stepped down from the witness stand and demonstrated how Kowalski described the way the shooting occurred.
Kowalski said he was holding the shotgun in both hands and he stumbled on an obstacle – perhaps a bed leg – and fell on top of Perry who was lying on her back on the bed. He apparently tried to push himself up with the shotgun still in his hands when it went off, killing Perry.
Also on Friday, Superior Court Judge Louis Menendez issued the so-called Walsh instruction to the jury, in which members were told to disregard the latest opinion by a retired Montana investigator about an injury to Morin’s forehead.
On Monday, Kowalski’s defense may move for acquittal, followed by the prosecution resting its case, more testimony and evidence by the defense, then closing arguments. The case could go to the jury for deliberations as soon as Tuesday or Wednesday.
The Kowalski trial is perhaps most noted for the conflict and clashing personalities of opposing attorneys in the case. Judge Menendez has spent much of his time mediating interruptions and attorneys’ thinly veiled personal insults.
Other highlights from Friday include:
- Mary Droddy, spouse of a witness who slept in a room next to Perry and Kowalski’s at the Glacier Bear Lodge, was called to the stand as a defense witness. Droddy testified that her husband snores so loud he can be heard in adjacent rooms. Robert Droddy and Richard Tenwolde roomed together, but Droddy claimed to not hear an argument and shotgun blast heard by Tenwolde.
- Glacier Bear Lodge Manager Lauretta Eades was called to the stand to testify about events immediately proceeding and after the shooting, but could not remember what happened, or what she had said to investigators in1996. She was temporarily excused from the witness stand so she could refresh her memory with investigators’ summarized accounts.
- Former lodge bartender Rhoda Jensen said she remembered the brand and number of beers that Kowalski and Perry ordered during dinner just before the shooting. She also recalled being interviewed about the shooting by her brother-in-law, a Yakutat police officer, who is still a member of the force.
- Heli-skiing has long been a controversial topic in Haines. The interests of the industry often clash with people who live near heliports and don’t want the noise disturbing their peace and quiet. But there’s another group that’s impacted by helicopter noise: mountain goats.
- In the Northwest Arctic, caribou hunting has been contentious for years. Alaska’s largest herd continues to decline while tensions have emerged between rural subsistence users and outside hunters.
- From the Aleutian island of Akutan to the arctic village of Kiana, 13 communities have been crowned champions of a rural energy competition. The U.S. Department of Energy recently announced that it will help these communities cut their energy use by 15 percent by training local utility providers.
- It’s costing 14 percent more to take the ferry to and from the Lower 48. The higher fare is part of another round of tariff increases aimed at boosting income and equalizing rates across all routes.