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A civilian employee of the Coast Guard in Alaska was convicted Friday of the shooting deaths of two of his co-workers at a remote base originally thought to be the work of a bizarrely-tattooed drifter charged in a separate murder. James Wells, 62, was found guilty of murdering Coast Guardsmen Petty Officer 1st Class James Hopkins and retired Chief Petty Officer Richard Belisle - but his defense team vehemently denied his guilt and tried to blame the murders on another man. The member federal jury took only six hours to reach a verdict after the month-long trial.
They found Wells guilty of two counts each of first-degree murder, murder of an officer or employee of the United States, and possession of a firearm in a crime of violence. Accused killer: Jason 'Eyeball' Barnum was accused of killing an Anchorage police officer only months after Belisle and Hopkins were shot dead. Wells showed no emotion as the verdict was read, according to KTUUbut relatives of his victims burst into tears.
Federal prosecutors earlier said they would not seek the death penalty if Wells was convicted. His sentencing was set for July 8. He will likely spend the rest of his life in jail. It is not clear if he plans to appeal.
Investigators revealed during the trial that Wells put together an almost-air tight alibi before sneaking on to the base April 12, to kill the two men, their bodies were found in the station's rigger shop, where antennas are built and repaired. Prosecutors contended Wells, a Coast Guard civilian technician, resented the growing influence of Belisle and Hopkins in the shop where he was a nationally recognized antenna expert. They said he meticulously planned an alibi, sneaked onto the communications station and gunned them down. Wells made it home after the shooting and called Hopkins' work phone, leaving a message saying he would be late for work because of a flat tire, officials claimed.
But his defense team argued it was Jason 'Eyeball' Barnum that pulled the trigger.
Barnum, known as 'eyeball' for both the tattoo on his right eyeball that has permanently colored the eye black and an illustration of an eyeball on his forehead, declined recognizing the names of either man while in court with the jury out of the room, according to the Anchorage Daily News.
The year-old also refused to answer when asked if he took drugs the day of the murders or whether he killed the two men. Wells' defense team claims the man - currently being held on charges he gunned down an Anchorage police officer - took drugs the day of the murders and skipped town before being caught. He acknowledged in court being on the island during the killings and leaving shortly after. FBI agents talked to Barnum in the months after the double murder while making it clear he wasn't a suspect, but he refused to answer any of their questions.
Barnum's testimony was then sought by the defense team because he was a known acquaintance of an ex-con who dated Belisle's teen daughter, according to the paper. She admitted to having past drug problems and dating the former convict. They once worked together: This July 2, file photo provided by the U.
Dead: Belisle, shown here in after killing a caribou, was gunned down at the Coast Guard base. Remote: The base is located on Kodiak Island, about miles south of Anchorage. Prosecutors were able to convince the judge the already-accused killer had nothing to do with the Kodiak murders and would only be brought to the witness stand 'to frighten the jury,' according to the paper.
They then proceeded to mount their case against Wells, saying he committed the cold-blooded killings because he became jealous of the pair's growing influence at the island base. Hopkins, 41, was an electronics technician from Vergennes, Vermont. Belisle, 51, was a former chief petty officer who continued service to the Coast Guard as a civilian employee at the base about miles south of the state capital Anchorage.
Prosecutors say the flat tire was a ruse to give him a cover story for committing the murders. Wells told the FBI he started driving to work, detected a soft tire, stopped at a hotel near the Kodiak airport entrance, checked the tire and returned home to change it, authorities said. Unbeknownst to Wells, a security camera at the nearby Coast Guard main gate recorded his truck heading for the communication station shortly before 7 a. Wells' wife was out of town the day of the shooting, and her blue SUV was parked at the Kodiak airport.
Investigators concluded Wells switched cars, waited for Hopkins to drive by, followed him to the communications station and shot him and Belisle. Federal public defender Rich Curtner said in his opening statement that Wells suffered from chronic diarrhea following gall bladder surgery and was delayed the morning of the murders because he spent 20 minutes in a bathroom of a commuter airline. Wells made no mention of using an airport bathroom to the FBI. Curtner and defense attorney Peter Offenbecher of Seattle contended authorities immediately focused on Wells and ignored other possible suspects, including 'eyeball.
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