Troopers say chapel shooting investigation could take weeks

Posted: Sunday, April 27, 2003

BIG LAKE (AP) The investigation into the shooting deaths of two suspected burglars by a pastor at a Big Lake Church will take as long as several weeks, according to the top Alaska State Trooper in Palmer.

Troopers are continuing to gather information and waiting for complete autopsy and toxicology reports, Capt. Dennis Casanovas said Friday.

Pastor Phillip Mielke, 44, called troopers at about 5 a.m. Thursday to report he had fired at two men he said were burglarizing the Big Lake Community Chapel.

The body of Christopher Lee Palmer, 31, of Big Lake was found in the ditch of a dirt road several dozen feet from a side entrance to the church.

The body of Francis Marion Jones IV, 23, of Wasilla, was found at a home on Beaver Lake Road about 6 to 8 miles away from the church, where Jones apparently drove after he was shot. A woman who lives at the home had called 911, reporting that an acquaintance had come to her home suffering from gunshot wounds.

Autopsies on the two men were performed Friday. Casanovas said troopers had received some results, but that no more information would be released. He said the investigation would take several weeks because of the complexity of the case.

Our investigative facts and documents will then go to the Palmer district attorney for their review,'' Casanovas said.

He refused to say whether Palmer or Jones were armed, how many times they were shot, or whether they were inside or outside the church when they were hit.

Big Lake is an unincorporated community on the shore of Big Lake, 13 miles southwest of Wasilla.

The modest wood frame church, painted red, stands between Fish Creek and the Big Lake South State Recreation Site at Mile 5 of South Big Lake Road. The church parking lot has enough room for perhaps 20 cars packed tightly.

Mielke and his family live on a wooded lot across South Big Lake Road, in a home not easily visible from the chapel.

On the advice of his attorney, Mielke is not speaking to reporters.

Residents of a home behind the church heard no shots. Cindy DeRemer said she was unaware of the shooting until a neighbor called about 7 a.m. Thursday asking why the dirt road running alongside the church was blocked by troopers.

Troopers kept the road closed off until after 7 p.m. Palmer's body was found in the ditch on that side road, Lake View Drive, about 35 paces from the steps to the church's rear entrance.

The doors of the church showed no indication of damage, but cardboard covered one broken window.

Palmer prosecutors will determine whether Mielke will face charges.

Under Alaska law, deadly force may be used for self defense against death, serious physical injury, sexual assault or robbery.

A private person may not use deadly force if he knows that, with complete personal safety, he can avoid using deadly force by retreating. There is no duty to retreat if a person is on premises that he owns or leases and is not the initial aggressor.

A person may use deadly force in making an arrest or terminating an escape when the person believes it's necessary to arrest a person who has committed or attempted a felony that involved the use of force against a person, or is attempting escape from custody while possessing a firearm.

Roman Kalytiak, the Palmer district attorney, said his office had approved a search warrant request for the church, but otherwise has had minimal involvement with the case so far.

His office two years ago prosecuted a Wasilla man who fired at a pair of burglary suspects.

Kevin M. Monson, then 33, spotted a man stealing from a van parked outside his home. The man and a second suspect fled in their van.

Monson pursued the pair and cornered them on a dead-end road. He stepped out of his vehicle with a shotgun and attempted to stop them. The van drove past Monson and he fired, shattering the rear window.

Monson resumed the chase and caught up with the men when the van ran out of gas. Troopers received a call and found Monson holding the men at gunpoint.

Prosecutors charged Monson with third-degree assault, a felony. In a plea agreement, Monson pleaded no contest to reckless endangerment, a misdemeanor, and was sentenced to six months probation.

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