Death penalty ruled out in killings at Kodiak Coast Guard station

Casey Grove

Federal prosecutors will not seek the death penalty for James Wells, who is charged with killing two coworkers at a Kodiak Coast Guard communications station in 2012.

Because Wells, 62, faces two counts of murdering a federal employee, he was eligible for the death penalty if convicted in federal court. Execution is not an option in Alaska state court.

In a filing Monday, prosecutors said they would not pursue the death penalty for Wells. Such decisions are made by U.S. Department of Justice officials in Washington, D.C.

Wells is accused of killing Richard Belisle, a retired boatswain's mate and also a civilian employee, and James Hopkins, an enlisted electrician's mate.

According to the charges against Wells, he was a disgruntled antenna maintenance specialist at the communications station, which is separate from the Coast Guard's larger base on Kodiak. Wells became jealous of Belisle, 51, and Hopkins, 41, when a new supervisor put Hopkins in charge of the antenna riggers' shop, the charges say.

In the charges, prosecutors say Wells plotted to kill the men and developed an alibi: The tire on his pickup was flat, and he called in to work saying he would be late. But Wells drove his wife's SUV to the communications station, where he allegedly shot Belisle and Hopkins the morning of April 12, 2012, the charges say.

FBI agents pieced together a timeline of the events before and after the shooting and arrested Wells on Feb. 15, 2013. In the 10 months between the shooting and his arrest, Wells remained in Kodiak living at his home on the island.

Wells is now held without bail at a jail in Anchorage, according to federal court records.

Prosecutors with the U.S. Attorney's Office in Alaska declined to comment. Wells' attorneys did not return requests for comment.

Reach Casey Grove at or 257-4589.