Accused murderer pleads not guilty

Posted: Wednesday, May 09, 2001

The teen accused of shooting a Soldotna man dead May 1 by the highway near Hope pleaded not guilty Tuesday, despite his alleged confession to Alaska State Troopers.

Robert Owen Holt Jr., 18, of Anchorage, is accused of shooting Harold J. Sipary, 44, in the head May 1 at a turnout near Mile 48 on the Seward Highway. On Friday, a Kenai grand jury indicted him on charges of first-degree murder and first-degree vehicle theft.

Through his attorney, Margaret Moran of the Public Defender Agency, Holt pleaded not guilty to both charges. His trial is slated to begin July 9 in Kenai. He is being held at Wildwood Pretrial Facility pending $250,000 cash bail and a court-appointed third-party custodian.

First-degree murder carries a sentence of 20 to 99 years in prison. First-degree vehicle theft is a Class C felony subject to a prison term of up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $50,000.

According to an affidavit signed by Trooper James Helgoe, Holt told troopers he was hitchhiking alone from Anchorage toward Soldotna when Sipary picked him up. Holt told troopers that Sipary had a nice truck, and he decided to steal it. He told Sipary he wanted to go to the bathroom, and Sipary stopped at the turnout. According to the affidavit, Holt told troopers he relieved himself, then pointed a .22 caliber pistol at Sipary and ordered him to get out of the truck.

"When Sipary wouldn't get out of the truck, Robert said that he fired two rounds from the pistol. One round struck Sipary in the face. Robert said that Sipary slumped over in the driver's seat," the affidavit said.

According to the affidavit, Holt pulled Sipary out of the truck and started to drive away. Then, he backed up to search Sipary for a wallet or money before driving off.

Passers-by discovered Sipary's body May 2 at about 6:30 a.m. Troopers asked other law enforcement agencies to watch for Sipary's truck, and Anchorage police stopped it, with Holt driving, May 2 at about 11:20 a.m. Holt and two male passengers were interviewed at trooper headquarters in Anchorage. Holt allegedly confessed to the murder. The two passengers were released without being charged.

"That's what they say," Moran said. "You don't know if the confession is a valid confession. You don't know if it is a confession. It's an allegation that's been made by the state, and he's a very young boy. It depends on the circumstances."

Holt grew up mostly around Soldotna, said his half-brother Jeromi Noel, 21, of Soldotna, who was at the arraignment Tuesday before Kenai Superior Court Judge Harold Brown.

According to Kenai Peninsula Borough School District records, Holt attended Redoubt, Sears, Kalifornsky Beach and Sterling elementary schools, Soldotna Middle School and Soldotna, Skyview, Kenai Central and Kenai Alternative high schools. Accord-ing to the records, he never got beyond 10th grade, said Allan Miller, assistant principal at Skyview. His last year in borough schools was 1999-2000.

Holt moved to Anchorage and had contact with Covenant House, a crisis center for homeless and runaway teens.

"He was a targeted at-risk youth," said Alison Kear, Cove-nant House director of development and public relations. "He was somebody they'd seen on the streets, the Youth Resources Center staff. He was kind of couch-surfing around Anchorage."

Noel said Holt's parents are divorced. Holt's father, Robert Owen Holt Sr., lives in Valdez, and his mother, Lorrie Holt, lives in Reno, Nev. Noel declined to discuss how long it had been since the brothers lived under the same roof. He said he was not sure what Holt had been doing in Anchorage.

"I didn't keep track of him that much," Noel said. "All I know is, he was trying to get his life straightened out."

Noel said he was trying to help Holt. Just before the murder, Noel said, his brother spent two days in Soldot-na.

"I offered him a place to stay, and I drove him around looking for jobs the day before. He mostly sounded like he wanted to get out of Anchorage and make a change," Noel said. "My understanding was that he was going to Anchorage to get the rest of his belongings to bring them back down."

He said Holt talked about wanting to change, because things were not going the way he wanted in Anchorage.

"If you don't have anything to start with, you don't get anything," Noel said. "He just wanted to get out of the big-town atmosphere and get back to the people and places he knew."

Noel said he does not know what happened to Sipary, but he does not believe his brother was the only one responsible.

"I guarantee that he alone could not do something like this," he said.

A small crowd of Holt's teenage acquaintances watched the arraignment and hung around the courthouse.

Cole Lee Healy, 18, a homeless Soldotna teen, said he has known Holt for about a year, and Holt told him a different version of the murder by telephone from Wildwood Pretrial Facility.

According to Healy, Holt said he and another man went to Sterling before the murder and stole Holt's grandfather's truck, and the other man shot a hole in it. They got to Anchorage and decided to meet in Hope, Healy said.

"They got to Hope and started hitchhiking. ... Harold Sipary picked them up," he said. "... They stopped and Robert went to the bathroom. (The other man) stayed in the back of the truck. When Robert came back, all he heard was, 'Get out of the truck,' and the gun went off."

Helgoe said that story clashes with the evidence. Witnesses saw Holt hitchhiking alone from Anchorage the night of the murder, he said, and witnesses say the other man was in Anchorage when the murder occurred.

However, there are consistencies, he said.

"It all started the weekend before last," Helgoe said. "Holt's grandfather's house was broken into. Several pistols and some stereo equipment were stolen. Robert returns the next day and takes his grandfather's truck with (the other man) and drives it to Anchorage. That's Monday. They get to Anchorage and drive the truck around. The truck breaks down. The truck has been recovered."

It has a bullet hole in the passenger door, he said.

Helgoe said he interviewed Healy and that troopers are interested in finding the truth. However, Holt confessed several times, he said, and statements he made are consistent with evidence found at the scene.

"There is no doubt that the right individual has been arrested," he said.

Helgoe said troopers still have not recovered the murder weapon.

"(Holt) took us to an area where he said he disposed of it. We checked the area," Helgoe said. "It's in the middle of nowhere in the pucker-brush. We've had six canine dogs and other officers looking for it."

Helgoe said the site of the gun search is toward Anchorage from the murder scene, but declined to reveal the location.

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