Wells convicted, again, of Kodiak Coast Guard double murder

Gavel stock image courtesy of Getty Images

A jury has again handed down guilty verdicts for 68-year-old James Michael Wells, charged in the 2012 murders of two coworkers at a U.S. Coast Guard communications station in Kodiak.

Wells was accused of fatally shooting his fellow civilian antenna rigger, Richard Belisle, 51, and their supervisor, Petty Officer 1st Class James Hopkins, 41. But a 2014 guilty verdict was thrown out on appeal, with a panel of judges citing issues with a prosecution witness and inappropriate remarks made by the trial judge at Wells’ sentencing.

Closing arguments in Wells’ second trial took place Monday. The jury delivered its verdicts Tuesday afternoon.

Richard Belisle’s widow, Nicola Belisle, said that prior to the verdict, after seven years of ups and downs since the murder, she worried if Wells might be found not guilty this time. But that changed when a judge read the verdicts: guilty on all counts.

“It was like all the air and the tension in my body just came out, and it was like, ‘Oh thank God. Thank you,’” Nicola Belisle said. “I was crying, and like, ‘Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you. I’m relieved. I’m so relieved.”

Prosecutors presented evidence and witnesses they said showed Wells had developed a jealous rage, drove his wife’s blue SUV to the communications station and then sneaked inside to shoot the two victims with a .44-caliber revolver. They said Wells then lied about getting a flat tire on his own vehicle to explain why he had not also been at work when the murders occurred.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Steve Skrocki said the investigators and prosecution team had worked diligently to secure the guilty verdicts. Skrocki said it had been a difficult process for the victims’ families.

“The second trial, and then the waiting and the testifying and everything else. So there’s a lot of emotion right now, and they’re in a good place, and we’re happy for that.”

According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Wells’ sentencing will be scheduled in the coming days. The law provides for a mandatory sentence of life in prison.

Related: Second trial over Kodiak Coast Guard double murder goes to jury

Casey Grove is host of Alaska News Nightly, a general assignment reporter and an editor at Alaska Public Media. Reach him at cgrove@alaskapublic.org. Read more about Casey here

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