Defense attorneys representing James Michael Wells, who is charged with murdering two co-workers on Kodiak Island in April 2012, presented witnesses praising their client’s good nature and hardworking attitude Friday as the third week of trial came to a close. The defense also attempted to call a well-known criminal as a witness, but prosecutors fought against his inclusion.
Now-infamous criminal Jason “Eyeball” Barnum testified outside the presence of the jury. U.S. District Court Judge Ralph Beistline questioned the relevance of Barnum’s testimony but said he would consider allowing it if the defense provided more evidence.
Wells stands accused of killing 41-year-old James Hopkins and 51-year-old Richard Belisle on Kodiak, the second largest island in the United States and home to a major military base. The communications station at which Wells worked as a Coast Guard civilian employee is geographically separate from the island’s main base.
The murders occurred in the morning of April 12, 2012, around 7 a.m., when the two men were just starting their work days at the rigger shop. The government argues Wells was distraught over grievances about his job performance, which included at least one mention of replacing him.
Authorities never found a murder weapon, and prosecutors are arguing the case based on circumstantial evidence. The defense says investigators targeted Wells and failed to pursue other potential suspects.
‘Scare the jury’
Barnum is perhaps best known for his body art, especially the tattoos covering his face and head, including a crown of thorns that nearly wraps around the sides of his cranium and a skull etched atop his head. Most eye-catching, however, is Barnum’s blackened right eyeball. Upon his arrest in September 2012, he was many Alaskans’ introduction to eyeball tattoos, a procedure most studios in the state refuse to do.
Anchorage police arrested Barnum in September 2012 after he allegedly shot an officer at a hotel near Merrill Field. Police described the suspected cop shooter as a “serial burglar,” and he reportedly admitted to a string of Hillside break-ins and vehicle thefts that fed his heroin addiction. Barnum remains in custody on various burglary, theft and assault charges, as well as an attempted murder charge.
The FBI questioned Barnum about the Kodiak murders three months after his arrest. He testified that he was on the island the month of the shootings. Investigators showed him pictures of Hopkins and Belisle, according to court testimony. Barnum said he told them he didn’t want to talk.
Before Barnum entered the courtroom, the head U.S. Attorney in Alaska said she was opposed to the defense’s witness.
“There’s no relevance to Mr. Barnum other than to scare the jury,” Karen Loeffler said.
The prosecutor asked Barnum if he knew either of the dead men. Barnum replied that he wasn’t good with names. “I’m more better with faces,” he said. Loeffler then asked if he knew the location and layout of the rigger shop.
“The wigger shop?” he asked.
Loeffler asked the heavily tattooed man if he’d known Hannah Belisle, Richard Belisle’s daughter. Hannah was questioned on the stand earlier this week. Defense lawyers asked her about drug use and the people she hung around at the time of her father’s death. The 18-year-old said she heard rumors about “Eyeball” but didn’t know him.
Lastly, Barnum was asked if he killed the two murder victims.
“I’m not going to answer that question,” he said.
Past friend and potential suspects
Friday afternoon, past friends of Hannah Belisle were called to the stand. One of the witnesses was Travis Biocic, a name the defense brought up numerous times during the trial. Defense attorneys have implied Biocic or others with whom he associated might be suspects. The young man lived on Anton Larson Bay Road, where the rigger shop is located. The road ends at a bay of the same name, and the defense argues someone instead of Wells could have come from the secluded area. But Biocic said he stopped living there and had not been back since January 2011.
When briefly questioned by the prosecution, the young man said he brought flowers to Hannah the day her father was murdered. He said he did not know Richard Belisle.