- Associated Press - Tuesday, April 1, 2014

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) - The attorney for the man charged with killing two co-workers at a Kodiak Island Coast Guard communications facility offered a medical explanation Tuesday for his client’s whereabouts during the shooting.

Federal defender Rich Curtner said complications from gall bladder surgery left James Michael Wells suffering from intestinal issues.

On his way to work on the morning of the deaths, Curtner said, Wells detected a soft tire on his truck but delayed changing it to spend 20 minutes in a bathroom at the Kodiak airport because of chronic diarrhea.

The timing is crucial.


Federal prosecutors say there’s a 34-minute period between security-camera recordings of Wells‘ truck driving toward and away from the Communications Station, giving him time to reach the facility, shoot Richard Belisle, 51, and Petty Officer 1st Class James Hopkins, 41, and return home, where he concocted the flat tire alibi.

Wells is charged with two counts of first-degree murder, two counts of murder of an officer or employee of the United States, and possession of a firearm in a crime of violence. If he is convicted, prosecutors will not seek the death penalty.

U.S. Attorney for Alaska Karen Loeffler said in her opening statement that no other person had the means of escaping detection from security cameras at the Coast Guard Communications Station where the men worked. No robbery or other disturbance took place, she said.

“This murder was personal and intentional,” Loeffler said.

The motive, according to prosecutors, was unhappiness by a disgruntled employee. The Coast Guard was attempting to exert more control over Wells, a nationally recognized antenna technician who for years had called the shots at the shop.

The bodies were found in Building T2, known as the Rigger Shop, an L-shape building about 100 yards from the main facility, Building T1, which is staffed at all hours to monitor messages from mariners.

The morning of the shootings, Belisle’s security card opened the Rigger Shop at 7 a.m. Hopkins‘ truck pulled in about 7:08 a.m. Within minutes, they would be dead, Loeffler said.

Belisle was shot in a small office he shared with Wells, Hopkins and supervisor Scott Reckner. Hopkins died in the building’s break room.

Wells‘ white pickup truck showed up on security footage passing the main gate of the Coast Guard Air Station two miles away at 6:48 a.m. The same camera recorded the pickup 34 minutes later heading in the opposite direction toward Wells‘ home, at 7:22 a.m.

When Wells claimed to have been checking his tire and spending time in a bathroom at commuter airline Servant Air, prosecutors contend he stopped at the airport, switched into his wife’s blue Honda CRV, drove to the Communications Station and shot his co-workers. He was back on the road within five minutes and drove back to the airport, switched to his truck and drove home.

A security camera on Building T1 shows a blurry image of a blue SUV driving by the Rigger Shop at 7:09 a.m. and heading in the opposite direction at 7:14 a.m.

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