Jury convicts Wahl of murder in Spenard woman's death

Casey Grove
Erik Hill

A jury found Kenneth Wahl guilty of murder Wednesday for the 2009 killing of Elisa Orcutt inside her Spenard home.

The verdict Wednesday afternoon marks the second murder conviction for Wahl, 49, who faces a mandatory 99-year sentence.

Wahl had been paroled after serving part of his sentence in the first slaying, a stabbing in 1983. He left a court-ordered halfway house, violating his parole conditions, and moved into a camper-trailer on Cambridge Way in April 2009, according to testimony during the trial. Wahl did yard work for the woman who owned the trailer and started mowing lawns for neighbors, including Orcutt, 47.

Orcutt's father, Gordon Homme, said after the hearing that Wahl made $5 an hour.

"He stood in the yard there, mowing the lawn, on a couple occasions," Homme said. "And I said, 'Man, I don't know about this.' I said, 'Have you found out what his record is? Elisa asked him and he said he was in jail for some minor stuff. Didn't go into a lot of detail."

Because of court rules, the jury in Orcutt's case also did not know about the previous conviction. In January of 1983, Wahl was 22 when he killed a junior high counselor with whom he had a one-time sexual encounter. The two murder cases are the only things on Wahl's public Alaska court record.

Prosecutors said Wahl chopped the back of Orcutt's head, possibly with a detached lawn mower blade he had been seen sharpening. Another neighbor's surveillance video captured Wahl visiting Orcutt's house around the time of her death. The sole of one of his boots was soaked with Orcutt's blood, and police found items taken from her home in his trailer.

Wahl's public defender said detectives botched the investigation and did not follow up on other possible suspects. Wahl also said Wednesday he was not guilty.

Wahl, a tall and slender man in a gray shirt, stood with his two lawyers as Judge Jack Smith read the verdict -- "guilty of murder in the first degree" -- and shook his head, his eyes downcast.

As the judge asked each juror if "guilty" was their true verdict, Wahl refused to sit down. He turned and looked at the nearly full courtroom gallery, put his right palm up and lifted it, mouthing some words.

"Take me out," Wahl said several times to the court officers, who told him to sit down. "Take me out of here."

"You don't know the truth," Wahl said repeatedly, now handcuffed with the officers standing behind him. "You don't know the truth of what happened in this travesty of justice."

Wahl said he should have represented himself. As the officers led him away, he continued to talk to the prosecutor, Sharon Marshall, and the lead detective on the case, Milton Jakeway, saying, "God bless you."

Wahl also addressed Homme, the victim's father.

"I'm sorry for your daughter, Mr. Homme," Wahl said. "The reason I couldn't tell the truth was my criminal past."

When he was gone, Marshall hugged Homme, who told her that she and Jakeway had done a good job.

Wahl's lawyer, Julia Moudy, maintained her client's innocence even after the verdict was read. She said the jury made a mistake.

"They got it wrong. They're wrong," Moudy said.

Homme called Wahl a "psychopath" and said he was not surprised by the conviction.

"You can't defend something that, as far as I'm concerned, is defenseless," Homme said outside the courtroom.

Homme said he was angry with the parole board for letting Wahl out of prison. "It's too much for innocent people to tolerate."

As Homme talked to a reporter, the jurors walked past in the hallway. One of them, Sammye Green, stopped to give Homme and his friend a hug.

From the beginning, Green said, there had been little question whether she and her fellow jurors would convict Wahl on either theory of murder for which he was indicted, be it first- or second-degree.

The case went to the jury Tuesday afternoon. Green said they deliberated for about six hours before reaching the guilty verdict on first-degree murder. The deep gashes on the back of Orcutt's head -- which Marshall showed in her closing argument Tuesday -- convinced them Wahl acted intentionally, Green said.

"A lot of it had to do with the blows being in the same area, and knowing that she was, you know, falling when he kept hitting her," Green said, appearing to be close to tears. "We all had our thoughts, and everybody came to the same conclusion."

"I think justice has been done," she said.

Reach Casey Grove at (907) 257-4589 or casey.grove@adn.com