St. Paul man sentenced in Coast Guard killing

Posted: Sunday, September 07, 2003

ANCHORAGE (AP) A St. Paul man who first pistol-whipped the commander of a Coast Guard station and then shot him several times after he fell face-down in a ditch was sentenced to 99 years in prison on Friday.

Carl Merculief Jr. was sentenced for killing Cmdr. Timothy Harris in a jealous rage July 24, 2001, because his wife was having an affair with Harris, who three weeks earlier had arrived to command the Loran Station on the Bering Sea island.

Prosecutors argued that Merculief deserved a harsh sentence, and the judge agreed. The slaying is believed to be the first of a guardsman on Coast Guard property.

Assistant District Attorney Adrienne Bachman said Superior Court Judge Fred J. Torrisi found that Merculief ambushed a defenseless man when he went into the unlocked Coast Guard station, found Harris sleeping in his bed and pistol-whipped him before shooting him.

The judge described it as ''the worst kind of murder in the first degree,'' Bachman said.

Defense lawyer Michael Moberly argued for a prison term of 45 years based on other cases, but the judge didn't go along.

''The judge considered it and I think gave a thoughtful response, but obviously it was more than what we were hoping for,'' Moberly said.

In February, a jury found Merculief guilty of the most serious charge, first-degree murder, and nine lesser charges.

Prosecutors argued in sentencing documents that Merculief's words and actions proved he deserved the maximum 99-year sentence.

''Defendant Merculief told his wife, throughout their marriage that, if she ever left him, he would kill her or cut her so badly that no one else would want her. He told her that he would kill any man who attempted to have a relationship with her,'' prosecutors said.

They also said when Merculief heard that his wife was having an affair, he returned with a gun and ammunition hidden in his luggage.

Before heading over to the Loran Station, prosecutors said Merculief told an acquaintance he wanted to ''go kill a coast guard.''

''Carl Merculief planned and then executed the man who was seeing his estranged wife,'' prosecutors said.

Harris, a 14-year veteran of the Coast Guard, had been on St. Paul for just three weeks when he was killed. His wife, Jeannette, and their two young children remained in Bogalusa, La., because the station does not have accommodations for family members. Harris, 33, was expected to remain on the island one year.

During the trial, Moberly argued that Merculief didn't mean to kill Harris. He said he only wanted Harris to stay away from his wife and kids, and the commander was killed when things ''tragically got out of hand.''

He also stressed that Merculief had been drinking heavily before heading toward the Coast Guard station and that affected his judgment.

During sentencing, several members of Merculief's family and some of the island's residents got up to speak. They wanted to show the judge another side to Merculief, Moberly said.

''A counselor spoke of where he bought an elderly woman heating fuel because she couldn't afford it herself,'' Moberly said.

After being sentenced, Merculief was allowed to spend some time with family and friends. They also were arranging for the priest to give him communion before he would likely be returned to a jail in Anchorage and transferred to an out-of-state prison, Moberly said.

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