Keyes pleads not guilty in abduction, murder of Koenig

34-year-old is accused of kidnapping and killing of Samantha Koenig.

Anchorage Daily NewsApril 19, 2012 

Israel Keyes, the 34-year-old man prosecutors say abducted and killed 18-year-old Samantha Koenig, pleaded not guilty in Anchorage federal court Thursday.

Keyes' indictment for Koenig's disappearance and death, announced Wednesday, add to an earlier charge of bank card fraud and significantly raise the stakes for Keyes: He could face the death penalty if convicted, said Assistant U.S. Attorney Frank Russo in court Thursday.

Russo said the Department of Justice would make the decision whether prosecutors will seek the death penalty.

According to the indictment, Keyes forced Koenig out of the Midtown coffee stand where she worked about 8 p.m. Feb. 1. He stole a debit card from a vehicle Koenig shared that was parked near her residence and forced her to tell him the access number he later used to steal money from an unnamed man's bank account, federal prosecutors say.

The court papers say Keyes sent text messages from Koenig's phone that were intended to cover up the abduction. He killed her early the morning of Feb. 2, flew to Texas, then returned about two weeks later, the indictment says. Keyes sent more text messages from Koenig's phone demanding ransom money, and Koenig's family deposited cash from a reward fund built on donations into the compromised account, Assistant U.S. Attorney Kevin Feldis said.

Keyes made unauthorized withdrawals in Alaska, then flew to the Lower 48, where he made further cash withdrawals in Arizona, New Mexico and Texas, according to the indictment. The alleged thefts totaled about $2,400.

Agents were on Keyes' trail when a Texas Highway Patrol officer pulled him over for speeding in Lufkin, Texas. Keyes had the stolen card, rolls of cash and a disguise seen in surveillance footage from the cash machines used to make the withdrawals, according to a charging document.

FBI divers found Koenig's body under ice covering Matanuska Lake on April 2. It is still unclear how they learned the precise location of her remains. Prosecutors have not said how Koenig died, only alleging that Keyes intentionally killed her.

Keyes entered the courtroom Thursday with his dark hair slicked back and his lips pursed. He wore wire-rimmed glasses and scanned the audience, which included Koenig's mother and sisters. Her mother, Darlene Christiansen, wore a lime green sweatshirt -- Koenig's favorite color, friends say -- and the women all had pictures of Koenig on their shirts and pins.

Keyes appeared calm through the entire proceeding and spoke only once, at the end of the hearing, when Judge Michael Thompson asked if he had any questions.

"No, your honor," Keyes said evenly. His hands were cuffed behind his back and he was led from the room.

Keyes' lawyer, Richard Curtner, would not talk to reporters afterward.

Christiansen said it was the first time she'd seen Keyes in person.

"I want him to get the death penalty," she said.

Asked about her daughter, Christiansen said, "She was beautiful, full of life, laughter. I miss her laughter so much."

"I believe the judicial system will make sure that he pays for what he's done," she said later. "I just want the right justice. I want justice for Samantha."

Koenig's father, James Koenig, has said that Koenig lived with him and that he was her lone parent from a young age. He was not at the hearing and has not spoken publicly since before his daughter's body was found.

Feldis, the prosecutor, said Keyes is charged in federal court, not state court, for a couple important reasons.

"Kidnapping is a federal crime. In this case, Mr. Keyes is also charged with access device fraud and receipt and possession of ransom money, both of which are also federal crimes," Feldis said. "The indictment alleges that a number of his actions took place out of the state related to this crime."

Crimes that cross state lines typically fall within federal prosecutors' jurisdiction.

Feldis said he could not comment on whether the prosecutors would pursue the death penalty.

"There's a statutory process that will be followed in this case, as in any case," he said.

It has been 62 years since anyone was executed for an Alaska crime, according to the Justice Center at the University of Alaska Anchorage.

Joshua Wade pleaded guilty to two murders -- one in 2000 and one in 2007 -- in state court after initially facing federal charges that carried, like Keyes, the possibility of the death penalty if he were convicted. He was sentenced to life in prison under the plea deal.

Reach Casey Grove at or 257-4589.

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