End in sight for Yakutat homicide trial

Cold case investigator Randel McPherron reads a report while on the stand on Friday in the Robert Kowalski homicide trial. (Photo by Matt Miller/KTOO)

Cold case investigator Randel McPherron reads a report on Friday in the Robert Kowalski homicide trial. (Photo by Matt Miller/KTOO)

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.

Randel McPherron

Investigator Randel McPherron demonstrates the way that Robert Kowalski described how he fell on Sandra Perry as Judge Louis Menendez and attorney Eric Hedland watch during Friday’s session of the homicide trial. (Photo by Matt Miller/KTOO)

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.

Mary Droddy

Mary Droddy responds to a question by defense attorney Eric Hedland during Friday’s session of the Robert Kowalski homicide trial. (Photo by Matt Miller/KTOO)

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.
Rhoda Jensen testifies during Friday's session of the Robert Kowalski homicide trial. (Photo by Matt Miller/KTOO)

Rhoda Jensen testifies during Friday’s session of the Robert Kowalski homicide trial. (Photo by Matt Miller/KTOO)

Recent headlines

  • dollar bill money macro

    Per diems driving special session costs

    Lawmakers who represent areas outside Juneau receive $295 for each day of the special session. Juneau lawmakers receive $221.25 per day.
  • Caroline Hoover proudly pins an Alaska Territorial Guard medal on the front of her father's parka during an official discharge ceremony held Oct. 17 in Kipnuk, Alaska. David Martin is one of three surviving members of the Alaska Territorial Guard's Kipnuk unit. A total of 59 residents of Kipnuk, who volunteered to defend Alaska in the event of a Japanese invasion during World War II, were recognized during the ceremony. Kipnuk residents who served with the Alaska Territorial Guard from 1942-1947 were members of a U.S. Army component organized in response to attacks by the Japanese on Pearl Harbor. (Photo by Jerry Walton, Department of Military and Veterans Affairs cultural resource manager and native liaison/public domain/Wikimedia Commons)

    16 Alaska Territorial Guard vets to be honored in Anchorage

    Sixteen veterans of the Alaska Territorial Guard will be honored at a discharge ceremony today. Four of them are from Western Alaska.
  • Don Andrew Roguska looks out from an upstairs window of an historic Juneau house he bought in 2016 to restore. Zoning regulations have prevented him from rebuilding in the same style. (Photo by Jacob Resneck/KTOO)

    Juneau mulls relaxing zoning rules for historic houses

    The historic houses in Juneau and Douglas were predominately built by miners and fishermen long before today's zoning was put into place. That's prevented homeowners from restoring or rebuilding homes in these neighborhoods without running into conflict with the city's zoning laws -- a temporary fix may be on the way.
  • Young joins Afghanistan war skeptics in Congress

    Alaska U.S. Rep. Don Young wants to know why Americans are still fighting in Afghanistan. He has co-sponsored a bill that would end funding for the war in a year, unless the president and Congress affirm the need for it.