Witnesses begin taking the stand in Yakutat homicide case

Opening statements were held Thursday and the first witnesses took the stand in the case of a man accused of killing his girlfriend at a Yakutat lodge 17 1/2 years ago.

Robert Kowalski, 52, is charged with first and second degree murder for the death of Sandra Perry. The 39-year old woman was shot and killed at the Glacier Bear Lodge in July 1996.

Prosecutor James Fayette jolted the jury and spectators with his opening statements that included a vivid description of the fatal injuries sustained by Perry after a shotgun was fired at her head at close range.

“Blew her head off, clean off,” Fayette said.

That Kowalski was handling the shotgun when Perry was killed is not in dispute. But the question is whether he intentionally killed her or he knew his conduct could lead to her death, or whether it was an accident – as Kowalski claimed — that stemmed from tripping or a reaction after being startled by Perry.

Public defender Eric Hedland said the investigation by local police and state troopers was immediate and thorough.

“I think I will be able to establish that with any witness that is asked to give a rendition of an event, over time, there will be discrepancies,” Hedland said. “That’s true if you’re taking about an alleged victim, a dispassionate eyewitness, or the possible suspect. But the core facts that Mr. Kowalski described did not change.”

After opening statements, some of those who testified included Perry’s oldest son, a waitress and dinner cook at the lodge, and a lodge resident who was asleep in an adjacent room when Perry died.

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