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St. Paul man found guilty in Coast Guardsman killing

Posted: Friday, February 21, 2003

ST. PAUL ISLAND, Alaska (AP) -- A white wooden cross with Timothy Harris' name stands at the spot where he was shot across from the U.S. Coast Guard station on this wind-swept island in the Bering Sea.

The cross is next to a road stretching across the tundra and into St. Paul, an Alaska Native village of 533 people, where a jury Thursday found 26-year-old Carl Merculief Jr. guilty of killing Harris in a jealous rage July 24, 2001, because his wife was having an affair with the Coast Guard station's new commander.

Merculief was found guilty of the most serious charge, first-degree murder, and nine lesser charges, amounting to eight felonies and two misdemeanors.

At sentencing May 30, he could receive 99 years in prison.

Harris, a 14-year veteran of the Coast Guard, had been on St. Paul for just three weeks when he was killed.

Because the station does not have accommodations for family, his wife, Jeannette, and two young children remained in Bogalusa, La., for what was to be a one-year stint.

The slaying is believed to be the first of a Guardsman on Coast Guard property.

Merculief, who had been staying for a couple of months in Anchorage 775 miles away, flew back to St. Paul the day before the killing with murder on his mind, Assistant District Attorney Adrienne Bachman said Thursday in her closing argument.

''This man bought a ticket. He packed a gun and flew to this remote island,'' Bachman said. ''He was going to get revenge.''

Bachman said Merculief was an abusive husband who became filled with homicidal rage after his wife e-mailed him saying she was divorcing him.

So, he returned to St. Paul and questioned his 5-year-old son, the baby sitter and relatives about who his wife might be seeing.

''He needed to know who his target was because if he couldn't have her, no one would,'' Bachman said.

After doing some drinking, he went to the Coast Guard station at 4 a.m.

Merculief walked through the unlocked doors and down the hallway to the 33-year-old commander's quarters, where he pistol-whipped Harris so badly his bedroom was covered with blood spatter, Bachman said.

It's likely he then marched Harris from the building and shot him five times, three times as he lay face down on the ground, she said.

''The commander is being executed,'' Bachman said.

Merculief then told another man who drove with him to the station, ''I beat him up good and then I shot him,'' she said.

He went to his wife's house and told her, ''You made me do it... I have your honkey boyfriend's blood on my hands.''

Merculief, an Aleut like most island residents, was charged with eight felonies, including first-degree and second-degree murder.

The judge denied the defense's request to have the jury consider the lesser charge of manslaughter.

Bachman urged the jury to focus on Merculief and ignore that both Harris and Kari Ann Merculief, 27, were married people having an affair.

''You, this jury, are the conscience of the community,'' she said.

It won't be easy for the village to forget that Kari Ann was fooling around and what happened because of that, said John Kushin, who was excused from jury duty because he was once dated Kari Ann.

''It takes two to tango. They were both married. They shouldn't have done it,'' Kushin said.

Defense lawyer Michael Moberly told the jury to focus on Merculief's state of mind when he killed Harris. He said Merculief had as many as 15 beers and most of a bottle of rum that affected his judgment.

He didn't mean to kill Harris, Moberly said. He only wanted to tell him to stay away from his wife, his home and kids.

''It got tragically out of hand,'' he said. ''The situation quickly spun out of control.''

The jury began deliberating Thursday afternoon and reached a verdict after only about four hours.

Merculief showed little emotion when the verdict was read in contrast to observers. His face became flushed and he glanced once at his wife.

As the courtroom began to clear, people lined up to hug Kari Ann Merculief and Jeannette Harris.

''It was very emotional for this community,'' Bachman said. ''They need a lot of healing.''

Community members were divided over the trial.

Kushin's mother, Zee Melovidov, said Carl's mother, Louise, is like a sister to her and Carl like a son. She was pregnant with her son Alexander when Louise was pregnant with Carl and his twin sister.

Melovidov said for the most part St. Paul's Natives don't socialize with the whites on the island, but Kari Ann was going to the Coast Guard station where Carl had friends.

She said the anger at Carl has eased but the hard feelings toward Kari Ann could last longer, especially if Carl goes to prison for a long time.

But the island will get over it, she said. St. Paul residents are used to hardship. It comes from living in a harsh environment where making a living requires pulling crab and halibut from the dangerous Bering Sea and toiling in the fish processing plants.

''That is how life is,'' Melovidov said. ''Someone dies, we lose them, and then we move on and forget.''

Cecilia Murphy said the problem was Carl, not Kari Ann.

''This trial is about Carl, not Kari. He committed the crime and brought shame to our community. Kari did not.''

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