Jury convicts Wagner of murder for 2011 stabbing

Tegan Hanlon

An Anchorage jury rejected Joshua Wagner's claim of self-defense in a fatal 2011 stabbing, convicting him of second-degree murder Wednesday in state Superior Court.

At trial, Wagner, 37, testified that the slaying of Norman "George" Dennis inside the victim's South Anchorage garage was a last resort after Dennis started a fight, pulled a knife and threw a punch.

But prosecutor Andrew Grannik, an assistant district attorney, argued that Wagner provoked 34-year-old Dennis, stabbed the victim nine times, including once in the heart, and then lied to police about the attack.

The jury acquitted Wagner of first-degree murder -- deciding that the defendant did not have the intent to kill, but acted with extreme recklessness, said Clint Campion, deputy district attorney.

Wagner will face between 10 and 99 years in jail for second-degree murder and up to five years for an additional criminal mischief charge, said Campion. His sentencing is scheduled for 9 a.m. on July 11.

While Judge Jack Smith read the verdict Wednesday, 54-year-old Brenda Dennis, the victim's mother, sobbed. And as Wagner was led out of the courtroom, Dennis cried and hugged Grannik.

"It's been a long two-and-a-half years," she said after the trial. "You wake up every day thinking about it."

Last week, Wagner testified that Dennis was out of town when Dennis' girlfriend, Annie Atkinson, let Wagner move his trailer into their driveway on Nugget Lane, asking him to leave before Dennis returned. He parked next door and left some things in Dennis' garage, Wagner said.

He said that this upset Dennis who told him they needed to talk in the garage and a fight ensued. Stuck in a corner, Wagner said he grabbed Dennis' knife and stabbed him. Wagner said he did not remember many other details of the fight. Twice, he had been punched hard, he said. Wagner went next door and collapsed on the couch thinking he'd been stabbed, he testified.

Before that, prosecutors said Wagner grabbed a fire extinguisher, broke out windows to the house and sprayed the extinguisher inside and into Dennis' face.

Atkinson called police who found Dennis next to a washer and dryer, only able to elicit slight finger movement from him, Grannik said. Paramedics took Dennis to the hospital where he later died.

The jury heard testimony that both men had been drinking.

Wagner admitted on the witness stand that he had lied to police the night of the stabbing about where the fight had occurred, telling an officer it started outside.

Wagner is in custody at the Anchorage jail.

Reach Tegan Hanlon at thanlon@adn.com or 257-4589.


By Tegan Hanlon