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In a more subdued hearing, Israel Keyes gets a March trial date

Ben Anderson
Photo courtesy Alaska Police Department

Two days after Israel Keyes -- the man accused of kidnapping and killing 18-year-old Anchorage barista Samantha Koenig on Feb. 1 -- vaulted over the railing in a federal courtroom and had to be subdued by a team of U.S. marshals, a hearing on Friday saw Keyes get a trial date in 10 months.

The incident on Wednesday came as Jacqueline Walsh, one of Keyes's three attorneys, was saying why the defense was seeking a trial date as much as two years away. Shortly after she began, Keyes lunged over the rail and into the spectator area of the courtroom before being taken down by a half-dozen marshals, who applied a Taser. The courtroom erupted into screams and cries of "get him!" and "kill him!"

Keyes somehow managed to break his leg irons, which the U.S. Marshals Service described as being made of steel chain.

U.S. District Court Judge Timothy Burgess addressed Keyes's outburst in court on Friday, warning him that similar behavior would merit additional security (including additional shackles and, potentially, a gag), contempt of court charges, or even see him relegated to a jail cell, from where he would have to watch the proceedings against him.

Already, Keyes wore additional restraints and was surrounded by security. He wore a red jumpsuit used to indicate a problem inmate. Asked by Burgess if he understood, Keyes replied, "Yes, your honor."

Burgess also chastised spectators for the outbursts two days ago. Acknowledging that he couldn't be sure which onlookers had also been present Wednesday, Burgess said, "Although Mr. Keyes's behavior was inappropriate, some of the comments were equally inappropriate."

Further outbursts could lead to spectators being removed, he said.

Following Burgess's statements, assistant U.S. attorney Frank Russo got up to clarify statements he made on Wednesday. The government was seeking a trial timeline of around 10 months, much shorter than defense proposed.

Russo said the government could be prepared to move forward much sooner than 10 months, and added that he believed Keyes himself preferred a trial sooner rather than later.

"It's our understanding that Mr. Keyes wants this to move forward more quickly," Russo said. 

Rich Curtner, the public defender assigned to Keyes's case, objected to Russo's characterization of what his client may want. Russo suggested that Judge Burgess should ask Keyes what he wants.

"I oppose that, you addressing Mr. Keyes," Curtner said at the suggestion.

Asking the defendant about his wishes is not unusual, Burgess replied, and is even incumbent upon the presiding judge to do so.

Then Burgess turned to Keyes and, for the first time in his several court appearances, Keyes spoke more than a few words.

"The only concerns I have are regarding to the discovery (evidence), which I have not had the chance to see for myself," Keyes said. He added that he was trusting the attorneys to set a trial date -- but once one was set, he preferred that it wouldn't "move around." He said he would be OK with an earlier trial date, too.

"If 10 months is realistic, that's fine with me," Keyes said, and that even earlier would also be fine.

Due to the complexity of the case, and the possibility of the death penalty being pursued, Burgess declined to move the trial date up but did grant the government's request for a 10-month timeline. Jury trial should start March 11, 2013.

The court -- including a large contingent of Samantha Koenig's friends and family -- stood as Burgess left, then waited for Keyes to be escorted out. Wrapped around his waist was a belly chain, with his handcuffs attached. He was again in leg shackles, and numerous marshals stood around the courtroom, with others seated. David Long, supervisory deputy with the U.S. Marshals Service said that security had been "beefed up" for Friday's hearing.

Contact Ben Anderson at ben(at)alaskadispatch.com