Kodiak Man Convicted of Murdering Coast Guard Employees in Kodiak
|U.S. Attorney’s Office April 25, 2014|
ANCHORAGE—U.S. Attorney Karen L. Loeffler announced that today, after deliberating for six hours, a jury of six women and six men found James Michael Wells guilty of the murders of U.S. Coast Guard Electrician’s Mate First Class James Hopkins and retired Chief Boatswain’s Mate Richard Belisle on April 12, 2012. Both Hopkins and Belisle, who was working a Coast Guard civilian employee, were murdered at U.S. Coast Guard Communications Station Kodiak.
Wells, 62, of Kodiak, was tried before Chief District Court Judge Ralph R. Beistline in Anchorage.
Wells was arrested on February 15, 2013, under a federal arrest warrant based on a criminal complaint and was indicted on February 19, 2013. Wells was convicted on all six counts of the indictment: two counts murder in the first degree, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1111, one for each victim; two counts of murder of an officer or employee of the United States, a violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1114, one for each victim; and two counts of possession and use of a firearm in relation to a crime of violence, a violation of 18 U.S.C. § 924(c).
U.S. Attorney Karen L. Loeffler prosecuted the case along with Assistant U.S. Attorney Bryan Schroder and Captain Kathleen A. Duignan, U.S. Coast Guard, who was appointed as a Special Assistant U.S. Attorney, with support from Assistant U.S. Attorney Bryan Wilson.
According to Ms. Loeffler, the evidence established that on April 12, 2012, at approximately 7:15 a.m., United States Coast Guard (USCG) Petty Officer First Class James Hopkins and USCG civilian employee Richard Belisle were shot and killed while working at their duty stations in the Rigger Shop at USCG Communications Station Kodiak. First responders noted no evidence of a break-in or robbery, and both men appeared to be victims of a targeted killing.
A third employee in the Rigger Shop, James Wells, was not present and had left two phone messages stating he was running late due to a flat tire. USCG security video captured a small blue SUV entering the back of the Rigger Shop parking lot just before the murders and leaving just afterwards. Later that day, investigators discovered a blue car consistent with the car in the video in the parking lot of the Kodiak Airport. The car was owned by James Wells and had been left there by Wells’ wife, who was in Anchorage.
Additional USCG security video showed James Wells passing the Main Gate at Base Kodiak at 6:48 a.m. in his white truck on his way toward the Kodiak Airport and returning back towards his residence at 7:22 a.m.
The afternoon of the murders, Wells was interviewed and stated that he had left for work in his truck that morning but discovered a low tire after passing the Base Main Gate near the Kodiak Airport and went back home to change it. Wells had a tire with a nail in it in the bed of his truck and produced it for investigators.
The day following the murders, Mrs. Wells returned to Kodiak from Anchorage. Investigators then learned that the blue car that she left at the airport parking lot had been moved from where she originally parked it when she left for her trip.
In addition, in a second interview, Wells told investigators that he only took a couple of minutes to inspect the low tire at the airport. However, when asked about the 34-minute time gap shown by the Main Gate video, Wells stated, “I don’t have a reasonable explanation for it.” Investigators determined that the times on the videos and voicemail messages matched almost exactly to the time it would have taken Wells to drive his white truck from his residence to the airport, change into his wife’s blue car, drive to the Rigger Shop, murder both men, come back to the airport, change back to his truck, and return home.
The murder weapon, a .44 revolver, was never found. The evidence at trial showed that, a number of years prior to the murders, Wells had taken a similar weapon from an acquaintance’s gun safe and never returned it.
Judge Beistline scheduled sentencing for July 8, 2014. The law provides for a mandatory sentence of life in prison. Wells will remain in custody pending sentencing.
Ms. Loeffler stated, “This was a long road to justice for the families of Richard Belisle and James Hopkins, the United States Coast Guard community, and the citizens of Kodiak. The guilty verdicts were the result of the superb investigative effort of the FBI and Coast Guard Investigative Service, and I am very proud of the work of the members of the United States Attorney’s Office for the District of Alaska and our Special Assistant U.S. Attorney from the U.S. Coast Guard Judge Advocate General who, with professionalism and dedication, worked to present that investigation to the jury and convict the man responsible for brutally murdering two innocent men while they were at work serving their country and their community.”
Deirdre L. Fike, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI in Alaska, said, “The FBI would like to thank the Alaska State Troopers, Coast Guard Investigative Service, and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for their partnership and cooperation on this case. We are pleased that the lengthy and meticulous investigation of this brutal crime has resulted in the conviction of the person responsible. We continue to express our condolences to the Hopkins and Belisle families.”
“We commend the Department of Justice and our partner law enforcement agencies for ensuring justice was served and James Wells was held accountable for these murders,” said Vice Adm. Charles W. Ray, Commander, Coast Guard Pacific Area. “We hope this verdict brings closure to this chapter of tragedy in the lives of the Belisle and Hopkins families, our Coast Guard men and women, and the people of Kodiak.”
Ms. Loeffler notes that the convictions come after an extensive investigation led by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, with support from the Coast Guard Investigative Service and the Alaska State Troopers.