The trial of James Wells, the man accused of murdering Coast Guardsmen Petty Officer 1st Class James “Jim” Hopkins and retired Chief Petty Officer Richard Belisle, has been postponed until 2014.
In a Wednesday morning hearing, U.S. District Court judge Ralph R. Beistline pushed the trial, originally scheduled for April, to the week of Feb. 17, 2014. Wells appeared in custody at the hearing.
Federal prosecutor Daniel Cooper said the U.S. Attorney’s office filed the motion “to afford both the defense and the prosecution adequate time to prepare for the trial.”
“It’s not uncommon for these trials to be delayed much longer than this actually,” said Cooper. “It’s a good result.”
Wells was indicted Feb. 19 on two counts of first-degree murder, two counts of murdering a federal employee and two counts of using a firearm in a violent crime.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office filed the joint motion to delay the case from one year from the date of indictment due to the complex nature of the trial.
The request to postpone the trial, filed Feb. 27, calls the case complex because it involves a multiple homicide, is eligible for the death penalty, and includes substantial discovery material that must be analyzed for legal issues.
“Thus, the parties will be faced with difficult issues involving the motive, opportunity and means of the crime,” the document reads.
The investigation generated 343 recorded interviews and 268 non-recorded interviews, included 20 executed search warrants, video evidence and 62 grand jury subpoenas for information.
“In this instance, as outlined above, the discovery is so extensive that a continuance is necessary for the parties, especially defendant and his counsel, to properly review the material and prepare for trial,” the motion reads.
The motion to delay the trial came as no surprise to federal public defender Rich Curtner, who agreed with the delay.
He couldn’t say whether or not a year would give the defense enough time to prepare.
“It’s hard to say, we’re just getting started,” Curtner said. “(We’re) going through all the evidence and discovery. There’s quite a bit of it and that’s the next step.”
Wells’ charges are death-penalty eligible, but the government has not made a decision on whether or not it will seek the death penalty. If it does, that could cause another delay.
Wells is being held at the Anchorage Correctional Complex. He was scheduled to have a bail hearing in February, but that hearing was canceled when the defense decided not to request bail. Curtner said he couldn’t comment on whether the defense would seek another bail hearing.
Contact Mirror writer Nicole Klauss at email@example.com.