Jury hangs on murder charge, convicts on another

Defendant Robert Kowalski reviews some documents during his trial on Tuesday. (Photo by Matt Miller/KTOO)

Defendant Robert Kowalski reviews some documents during his trial on Tuesday. (Photo by Matt Miller/KTOO)

A Juneau jury has convicted Robert Kowalski of second degree murder for conduct with extreme indifference to the value of human life.

The jury announced the partial verdict on Friday afternoon.

After nearly two full days of deliberations that followed 3 1/2 weeks of trial, jurors were unable to reach agreement on a separate charge of first degree murder.

“I believe a manifest necessity has been established to declare a mistrial in that matter,” said Juneau Superior Court Judge Louis Menendez. “There’s no probability that a unanimous verdict can be reached as to the matter of count one.”

Prosecutors originally declined to charge Kowalski for the July 1996 death of girlfriend Sandra Perry at Glacier Bear Lodge in Yakutat. He claimed the shotgun fired when he was startled by Perry, or when he tripped over an obstacle and fell on the bed where Perry was lying.

Alaska investigators reexamined the Yakutat case after Kowalski was convicted of killing Lorraine Kay Morin in March 2008 near Kalispell, Mont. In September 2011, he was indicted by a Juneau grand jury on first and second-degree murder charges in the Perry case.

Jurors sent out a series of notes Friday morning that signaled their inability to reach agreement on at least one of the charges. Then they asked to hear a recording of testimony by a lodge guest who had been sleeping in a room next door when Perry was killed. About an hour after the playback, the jury sent out another note expressing their inability to reach a verdict on the first degree murder charge.  The three women and nine men were called back into the courtroom, quizzed about the deadlock, then Superior Court Judge Louis Menendez asked them to return to the deliberation room and fill out a verdict form.

Menendez declared a mistrial on count one’s first degree murder charge and set a status hearing for April 17th in which state prosecutors may announce their intentions for a possible retrial. A sentencing date for Kowalski’s conviction on count two’s second degree murder charge will not be set until issues stemming from the mistrial can be resolved.

Perry’s son Jeremy Padgett listened to the return of the verdict by telephone and said a quick “I just wanted to say thank you, that’s it” as the excused jurors filed out of the courtroom.

One juror said afterward that they simply could not agree on any possible intent as they considered the first count of first degree murder. There was also no evidence presented by the prosecution regarding the exact path of the shotgun slug which could reveal more clues about the nature of the shooting.

Jurors also had the option to consider a ‘lesser included’ or lesser form of count two’s second-degree murder charge for manslaughter or criminally negligent homicide that signifies reckless or negligent conduct. But they decided on the highest form of the charge in which the defendant knew the risk.