The trial of a former Cooper Landing fishing guide made little progress Wednesday afternoon at the Kenai Courthouse.
Thomas W. Murray, the owner of Wise Guide Outfitters, was charged in December 2011 with stealing from nearly 70 clients by failing to provide trips booked with his guiding business.
Murray, defense attorney Stephen Hale and Alaska Assistant Attorney General Clint Campion attended the change of plea hearing telephonically, as they have several times since the defendant’s indictment.
The defense filed a waiver of indictment, but Judge Anna Moran said she was concerned about signing the waiver without Murray present in court.
“I don’t understand how you propose to go forward, because he’s got to sign a waiver of indictment in front of me,” she said. “I realize he might be in Utah, but maybe he needs to come back to Alaska to get this case concluded.”
She said she needed to determine that he signed the waiver voluntarily.
Before the prosecution can pursue felony criminal charges, they have to prove to a court during a preliminary hearing or before a grand jury that there is sufficient evidence to meet the state’s burden of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. By waiving an indictment the defendant is generally agreeing the prosecution has enough evidence to move forward with the trial.
The defendant elects to no longer require the court work through its normal procedures to obtain a valid indictment, and he or she agrees to an indictment and the filed felony charges, according to Joseph Skrha, criminal justice attorney.
The defense may waive its right to receive a plea bargain. The indictment is not waived if the defense believes the prosecutor — in Murray’s trial, the state — does not have a case.
At the hearing Campion said a plea agreement was discussed between parties, but the same determination of free will was needed before continuing the trial.
Murray was charged in Kenai District Court on Dec. 8 with one count of scheme to defraud, four counts of second-degree theft, one count of first-degree unsworn falsification and one count of false information on a fishing license.
Troopers report Murray sold the fishing vacations on eBay for the 2010 and 2011 sport fishing season, but then failed to provide for some or all of these vacation packages.
Several dozen states were represented in terms of clients that paid Murray for future fishing trips, Campion said.
Murray sold trips to 29 parties with a total of nearly 70 clients who collectively paid more than $90,000 for trips that Murray failed to provide, and the investigation also revealed Murray failed to pay local area businesses — to include lodges, a fishing charter operation and sport fishing guides — more than $27,000 for services that were rendered to Murray’s 2010 clients, according to Troopers.
He has lived in Cedar Hills, Utah since he abruptly left the state mid-fishing season in 2010.
Moran said she was willing to allow Murray to appear at the next hearing via live video and expressed discomfort about the distance among the court, the defense and the prosecution.
“This is a significant case, and it shouldn’t be done by phone,” she said.
Campion said ordering the defendant to travel to Alaska for the trial was up to the discretion of the court.
A change of plea hearing is set for March 23 at the Kenai Courthouse.
Jerzy Shedlock can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.