New Trial Date Set for Man Convicted in Coast Guard Killings

An Air Station Kodiak MH-65 Dolphin helicopter aircrew conducts inland search and rescue training on Ugak Island, near Kodiak, Alaska, Nov. 21, 2018. (U.S. Coast Guard photo/Jeff Mistrick)
An Air Station Kodiak MH-65 Dolphin helicopter aircrew conducts inland search and rescue training on Ugak Island, near Kodiak, Alaska, Nov. 21, 2018. (U.S. Coast Guard photo/Jeff Mistrick)

KODIAK, Alaska — A new trial date has been set for an Alaska man convicted in the 2012 killings of two co-workers at a Coast Guard communications station in Alaska.

James Wells is scheduled for trial April 29 in Anchorage, the Kodiak Daily Mirror reported Tuesday. The retrial has been rescheduled several times.

The new date comes nearly a year after a federal appeals court concluded Wells did not receive a fair trial. The three-judge panel reversed Wells' conviction on murder and weapons charges and ordered a new trial.

The judges also said the case should be reassigned, citing comments the judge made at Wells' sentencing.

Wells was convicted in 2014 in the shooting deaths of Coast Guardsmen Petty Officer 1st Class James Hopkins and retired Chief Petty Officer Richard Belisle on Kodiak Island.

Prosecutors said Wells, a Coast Guard civilian technician, resented the growing influence of Belisle and Hopkins in the shop where he was an antenna expert. They said he planned an alibi, sneaked onto the communications station and killed the men.

The defense countered that authorities immediately focused on Wells and ignored other possible suspects. The defense said prosecutors had no witnesses and no physical evidence linking Wells to the deaths.

The appeals court found the testimony of a forensic psychologist who was an expert in workplace violence should not have been allowed. The testimony included a discussion of characteristics of those who carry out such acts, and was used improperly to bolster prosecutors' "overbroad motive theory, to substantively connect the strands of circumstantial evidence in such a way as to fit Wells into the criminal profile," according to the opinion.

The panel also took issue with the government challenging the appointment of a second attorney to help represent Wells, saying it carried a "reproachable air of stacking the deck."

But the opinion also found that a magistrate judge did not abuse his discretion in granting the government's motion to excuse the second attorney once the government decided not to pursue the death penalty. The second attorney eventually rejoined the defense team before trial.

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