During what was supposed to be a routine court hearing Wednesday in a notorious Anchorage murder case, defendant Israel Keyes vaulted over the courtroom railing into the spectator area and was wrestled to the ground by deputy marshals, according to the U.S. Marshals Service. They used a Taser to shock and subdue him.
Keyes, 34, is accused of kidnapping Anchorage teenager Samantha Koenig in February from a Midtown coffee stand, killing her within hours and hiding her body under the ice in a Mat-Su lake. He could face the death penalty. She was missing for weeks in a case that gripped Anchorage.
Just before 2 p.m. on Wednesday, three prosecutors and two of Keyes' defense attorneys appeared before U.S. District Judge Timothy Burgess in federal Courtroom 1 to discuss setting a trial date. A number of Koenig's family and friends were in the courtroom, as were several news reporters and law enforcement agents.
Jackie Walsh, one of his Seattle-based attorneys, was mid-sentence when chaos broke out, according to an audio recording of the incident.
"Our position is that at this particular juncture we're not --"
People started screaming.
"Get him!" someone yelled. "Get him!"
Deputy marshals directed people in the courtroom to move out of the way.
"Get back!" deputies ordered.
"Kill him!" a woman in the spectator area shouted.
People in the next courtroom could hear a thud. A deputy rushed out to see what was happening.
Within seven seconds, Keyes was subdued, said David Long, supervisory deputy with the Marshals Service in Anchorage. He wasn't in the courtroom but watched a security video of what happened. The marshals won't release the video, he said.
From the audio recording, the clamor quiets down in less than 20 seconds. A woman can be heard sobbing. Another says "I had a feeling he was going to do that."
Keyes wasn't handcuffed during the hearing, which is normal. Somehow, the leg irons that were supposed to restrain him broke -- it's not yet known how that happened, Long said. "We're investigating that right now." The leg irons worked correctly when deputies collected Keyes from the Anchorage jail earlier in the day, the deputy said.
The courthouse section of the Federal Building in Anchorage is under heightened security because of the ongoing Fairbanks militia trial in the courtroom next door.
At Keyes' hearing, no one was sitting in the front row. Long initially said it was cleared for security reasons but later said he couldn't say whether it had been reserved for law enforcement, people had been directed to stay further back, or no one chose to sit up front. More deputies than usual were in the courtroom for the hearing, but marshals won't release details of their security operation, Long said.
"He tried to get over the rail and I think a deputy had a hold of him before he could get out of the well there," Long said. As a deputy tackled him from behind, the momentum may have carried him over the railing into the vacant first row.
"He didn't get far," Long said.
In all, five or six deputies brought Keyes down, Long said. He struggled as they tried to handcuff him, so a deputy used a Taser. No one was injured. He appeared to be heading for the doors out trying to escape, rather than going after someone, Long said.
Deputies cleared the courtroom.
Keyes' defense lawyers declined to comment about the incident, as did Judge Burgess.
Prosecutors said little.
"There was an incident in the courtroom today," said assistant U.S. Attorney Kevin Feldis. "Proceedings were postponed."
The marshals acted fast and professionally, he said.
Disturbances are fairly rare in the busy federal courthouse but happen maybe once a year, Long said.
During Wednesday's hearing, assistant U.S. Attorney Frank Russo told the judge prosecutors expected the trial to take a month and they could be ready to go in March 2013. The defense wanted two years to prepare, prosecutors said. Walsh said the defense position was misconstrued, but she didn't have a chance to correct things before the disruption.
While prosecutors turned over voluminous investigative materials to the defense, 90 percent of it related to false leads early in the case, Russo said.
A decision on whether to seek the death penalty will be made by the U.S. Department of Justice capital case unit. Prosecutors must file a notice of their intent 150 days before the start of a trial, Russo said.
"Everybody here wants their day in court without unreasonable delay, the victims, Mr. Keyes and the government," Russo told Burgess.
The judge rescheduled the trial-setting conference for Friday at 2 p.m.
Reach Lisa Demer at firstname.lastname@example.org or 257-4390.