Convicted murderer of Tenakee Springs woman seeks review of his case

Tenakee Springs

Tenakee Springs (Photo by Quinton Chandler/KTOO)

A man convicted of sexually assaulting and killing a woman in Tenakee Springs nearly 14 years ago will likely be returning to a Juneau courtroom this spring.

James Harmon is serving a 72-year prison sentence for Maggie Wigen’s murder, two instances of sexual assault, and taking $100 bills that belonged to her.

Harmon, now 38 years old, filed a petition asking for post-conviction relief alleging that he didn’t receive adequate or sufficient representation for his case. In January 2016, the Alaska Court of Appeals determined that Harmon’s petition deserved another look.

An evidentiary hearing is scheduled for April 17 that will focus on Harmon’s claims of ineffective assistance of counsel, specifically concerning public defenders David Seid and Julie Willoughby during his trial in 2005.

Among Harmon’s claims, he believed his defense attorneys were “unprepared for court on more than one occasion,” unenthusiastic or indifferent about representing him, and “failed to inform (him) about certain (false) claims by the state.”

Harmon also claims that attorney Michael R. Smith, working on contract with the Office of Public Advocacy, failed to zealously follow through with an earlier petition for post-conviction relief.

On New Years Eve in 2002, a friend of Wigen’s walked in on Harmon sexually assaulting Wigen at her cabin in Tenakee Springs. The 19-year-old Wigen later disappeared from her cabin in March 2003. Her body was found a month later in an earthen dam near her cabin in Tenakee Springs.

Investigators believe Harmon, who was 24 years old at the time, lived in Wigen’s cabin after sexually assaulting her again.

Wigen was strangled and her body was buried in the dam where Harmon had worked.

He was interviewed by investigators, but he was not placed into custody. Harmon quickly left Tenakee Springs, he said, because he feared harassment and reprisals by residents there.

The case seemed to languish for more than a year, but unknown to the public, Alaska State Troopers had arranged for an undercover officer to befriend Harmon and secretly record their conversations whenever he incriminated himself or confessed to the crime.

Harmon was arrested for Wigen’s death in May 2004 and went to trial in April 2005.

Both the prosecution and defense agreed that the secretly recorded conversations would not be introduced as evidence during the trial as long as he did not take the stand in his own defense.

Harmon was convicted of second-degree murder, first-degree sexual assault, second-degree theft and attempted first-degree sexual assault.

The jury was unable to reach a verdict on the most serious charge of first-degree murder.

In November 2005, Harmon was sentenced to 65 years in prison on the charge of second-degree murder. He was also sentenced to 10 years in prison — to be served concurrently — for sexually assaulting Wigen before her death. Another seven years — to be served consecutively — was imposed for the New Year’s Eve attempted sexual assault and stealing Wigen’s cash. Harmon’s total composite sentence of both consecutive and concurrent terms was 72 years in prison.

During an earlier appeal, Harmon argued that his sentence was excessive and that it was improper to include the earlier sexual assault charge in the case.

He also argued the trial should not have been held in Juneau because of pre-trial publicity, specifically a series of stories about the case that ran in the Juneau Empire.

The Court of Appeals denied Harmon’s appeal in an opinion handed down in October 2008.

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