Jurors to hear opening statements in Yakutat cold case homicide

Dimond Court Building in downtown Juneau. (File photo by Matt Miller/KTOO)

Dimond Court Building in downtown Juneau. (File photo by Matt Miller/KTOO)

A jury has been seated in the trial of a man accused of killing his girlfriend over seventeen years ago in Yakutat.

The five-woman, eleven-man panel includes a high school teacher, a few state employees, mother of two children, mine worker, and a hospital employee.

They’ll be hearing the case of Robert Dean Kowalski. He’s charged with first- and second-degree murder for the death of 39-year old Sandra Perry at Yakutat’s Glacier Bear Lodge in 1996. Kowalski was never charged with a crime then. But Alaska investigators reviewed the case after Kowalski was convicted in Montana of killing another girlfriend there, 45-year-old Lorraine Kay Morin in March 2008.

Kowalski will turn 53-years old on Saturday.

Robert Kowalski

Robert Kowalski prepares to leave the courtroom during a break in his trial on Thursday, March 20, 2014. (Photo by Matt Miller/KTOO)

Public defender Eric Hedland will be representing Kowalski. James Fayette of the state’s Office of Special Prosecutions and Appeals in Anchorage will be prosecuting the case which has already been argued to a lesser extent or delayed over the last two years.

Superior Court Judge Louis Menendez will preside over the trial. Before his appointment to the bench, he served as a prosecutor and defense attorney and his cases included defending another man accused of a different Yakutat homicide in 1996.

A third group of prospective jurors was questioned on Wednesday morning by Hedland and Fayette. From that group of ten people, nearly half recalled instances of domestic violence or a friend killed during a violent crime. At least three of those prospective jurors were almost immediately excused from hearing the case.

The prosecution has signaled their intent to display photographs of the lodge during Thursday morning’s opening statements. Information about the Montana case may also be introduced.

Presentation of evidence and testimony by witnesses is expected to last two weeks.

Just before the start of deliberations in the case, four of the jurors will be randomly selected as alternates and dismissed from the case. They’ve all been admonished not to communicate to anyone about the case or do their own internet research.

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