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Spenard murder case goes to jury

Casey Grove
Erik Hill

Jurors heard closing arguments and saw gruesome autopsy photos Tuesday in the murder trial of Kenneth Wahl, accused of killing a woman he helped with yard work at her Spenard home in 2009.

If the jury finds him guilty, it will be Wahl's second murder conviction in Alaska.

Wahl, now 49, had left a halfway house two months before police found his alleged victim, Elisa Orcutt, 47, dead in her home on Cambridge Way. Wahl had been ordered to stay at the halfway house after he was paroled after serving time for the previous murder conviction, a fatal stabbing in 1983. Prior to Orcutt's killing, Wahl had been staying in a neighbor's trailer.

Though a few days passed between the attack that killed Orcutt and the day she was found, analysis of her body's decomposition showed that her time of death matched Wahl's visits to her house, as seen in another neighbor's surveillance footage, prosecutor Sharon Marshall told the jury Tuesday. Marshall projected a picture of the back of Orcutt's head, which had deep gashes in it. It's possible Wahl used a sharpened lawn mower blade, she said.

"Ladies and gentlemen, that is intent to kill," Marshall said.

While police were looking for Wahl, he also told a witness information that had not been released to the public, Marshall said. He knew that they had found Orcutt under a TV and told the witness, "It was an accident. The TV fell on her," Marshall said.

"How does he know that? Because he was there," Marshall said.

DNA evidence also showed boots that Wahl wore made a bloody footprint at the crime scene, a cluttered room in Orcutt's home, and police found items he stole from her in his trailer, Marshall said. Still, the prosecutors never determined a motive, she said.

"The reason we can't prove motive is we can't crawl inside his head and figure out what happened," Marshall said. "It could have been a sexual encounter. It could have been a theft."

What they can prove is that he lied to police in several statements, she said.

"If you didn't do anything, why lie?" Marshall said, pointing at Wahl in the courtroom. "Because Kenneth Wahl killed Elisa Orcutt. He chopped her in the back of the head."

Wahl's lawyer, Julia Moudy, said all Marshall had done was speculate about the motive and the murder weapon. If this was such an important homicide investigation, she asked, shouldn't the police have done a better job looking for those?

Moudy has maintained since the start of the trial that Wahl is innocent and did not cause Orcutt's death in any way, accidental or otherwise. Police failed to find another suspect, and the state prosecutors botched their case, Moudy said.

"If the state is going to take away somebody's liberty, they better do it right," she said. "They made mistakes and they made excuses."

The jury began deliberations Tuesday afternoon.

Reach Casey Grove at or 257-4589.