Lawyers argue over moving St. Paul murder trial

Posted: Thursday, November 15, 2001

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- Prosecutors want the trial of a man accused of murdering a U.S. Coast Guard officer moved from the town of St. Paul.

Carl Merculief Jr.'s trial on an island off Alaska's west coast was set to begin next week. But prosecutors are arguing that it would be too expensive to hold a trial in St. Paul, facilities are inadequate and just about everyone in town is related to the defendant, his wife, or one of the witnesses.

Merculief is charged with first-degree murder in the death of Timothy Harris, a U.S. Coast Guard officer he believed was having an affair with his estranged wife.

Merculief wants to be tried in St. Paul, an Aleut town of about 650 people where he has lived about half his life and where the shooting occurred.

Superior Court Judge Dan Hensley is considering arguments in the case.

An established principle in the criminal justice system is that a trial should be in the community where the crime took place, and also that a defendant is entitled to an impartial jury picked from a cross-section of the community. But it's difficult to achieve both goals when the case is notorious and the community is very small.

Assistant District Attorney Hollis French has asked the judge to move the trial to Anchorage.

Merculief, 25, had been living in Anchorage for several months before the shooting. He and his wife, Kari Ann, were separated, and, according to court papers, she planned to divorce him.

On July 23, Merculief flew to St. Paul, where he was met at the airport with a domestic violence restraining order barring him from contact with his wife.

According to the prosecution, Merculief shot Harris about 12 hours later at the Loran station where Harris worked.

In addition to murder, Merculief is charged with felony and misdemeanor assault, burglary, violating a protective order and misconduct involving weapons. The trial could take three weeks.

Defense attorney Stacy Hoagland said Wednesday she wants Merculief tried ''in a community where they're going to understand him, know him, where they're familiar with the Coast Guard presence.'' Hoagland agreed that she hopes for a home court advantage if the trial is in St. Paul but said a defendant is entitled to a jury of peers, and in this case that means rural Alaska Natives.

If the trial has to be moved, she said, it should go to Dillingham or Bethel or Kotzebue, not Anchorage.



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