State court hears arguments to dismiss rare grand jury indictment against retired judge

A court in Anchorage heard arguments Monday on whether to throw out a perjury charge against a retired state judge. The case involves a conservative activist convicted of several hunting violations nearly two decades ago who has since waged a campaign against the Alaska judicial system, alleging widespread corruption and pushing for changes to the state’s grand jury system.

“It is not my intention to make a decision today,” said Anchorage Superior Judge Thomas A. Matthews at the start of Monday’s oral arguments.

At issue is whether the lone perjury charge against retired Homer District Court Judge Margaret Murphy is so irredeemably tainted by how it was handled by a Kenai grand jury and special prosecutor that it should be scrapped.

“The laissez faire role that the prosecutor took here is unprecedented,” said Timothy Petumenos, one of the attorneys representing Murphy.

Murphy, who retired in 2019, was present at Monday’s hearing but did not speak.

[Perjury charge for retired Homer judge signals a victory for grand jury activists in Alaska]

The case against her is extraordinary for several reasons, chief among them that the indictment, filed at the end of April, contains almost no information, stating only that she allegedly perjured herself “on or about November 3, 2022, at or near Homer.” What’s more, the case grew out of an investigation by members of a grand jury convened in Kenai, rather than a state prosecutor bringing charges for members of a grand jury to weigh before issuing a formal indictment, as normally happens in criminal proceedings.


“There’s so much at stake here,” Petumenos said, asking Matthews that, in his ruling on the motion for dismissal, he address some of the broader underlying issues.

Packed into the courtroom were more than three dozen spectators, almost all of them supporters of David Haeg, the Kenai man convicted of aerially hunting wolves outside state-approved boundaries in an area around McGrath in 2004. In the wake of his trial and subsequent appeal efforts, Haeg accused presiding judge Murphy, as well as an Alaska wildlife trooper and his lawyer, of collaborating against him. In the years since, Haeg has insisted his conviction was unjust, and that Alaska’s court system is corrupt. He maintains a website called “Alaska State of Corruption,” a repository of press clippings, court documents, and legal interpretations, and established a group focused on expanding powers for Alaska grand juries.

“One of the most invaluable rights of a citizen is to be able to appeal to a grand jury directly,” Haeg said in an interview after Monday’s arguments. “Guess what: We’re not giving it up. We don’t care what these judges say about it. We care about what delegates said who wrote our constitution that protects us from these folks, that’s what we care about.”

Lawyers for Murphy argue that the process by which the grand jury issued its indictment was severely flawed. Among the problems was that one of the 12 members of the grand jury disappeared before the rest of the body formally moved to issue the perjury indictment, meaning it lacked the legally necessary quorum to take such a step.

“We lost one of the jurists,” said Clint Campion, a former Anchorage state district attorney who has since gone into private practice but was hired by the Department of Law to serve as an independent prosecutor in the case.

Campion addressed the court telephonically, as ongoing airline issues had left him stranded outside of Alaska.

According to Campion’s filing opposing dismissal of the case, the Kenai grand jury decided in August of 2022 “to investigate allegations of corruption that were brought to its attention by David Haeg during the summer of 2021 ... the purpose of the grand jury proceedings was not to indict anyone for crimes but to conduct investigative proceedings and to issue a report.”

The perjury charge appears to center on discrepancies in Murphy’s account of Haeg’s trial and sentencing in 2004 and 2005. According to Campion’s filing, Murphy testified under oath in November of 2022 in response to a grand jury subpoena, and a few of the details she offered about her interactions with law enforcement officials were at odds with other official accounts she gave during the intervening years, such as whether or not she’d accepted rides from a wildlife trooper or village public safety officer while in McGrath for court proceedings.

“It is clear that the grand jury determined that Judge Murphy perjured herself when she testified on Nov. 3, 2022 that she walked to and from the courthouse and that she did not receive any rides during Mr. Haeg’s trial or sentencing,” Campion wrote.

In its response, attorneys for Murphy said Campion’s argument “presents an incomplete and selective misleading recitation of the factual record.”

The defense’s other arguments for dismissal hinge on additional technical problems with how evidence was presented to the grand jury, inadequate instructions from the prosecutor to jurists, and a fatal lack of specificity in the indictment.

Petumenos called the case against Murphy the biggest breach of the investigative grand jury’s functions he’d seen in nearly 50 years of practicing law. He referred to the grand jury as the justice system’s “sword and shield,” with the power to initiate complex investigations into institutional and official malfeasance, as well as offer a check on prosecutorial overreach or the unfair targeting of individual citizens.

“The shield is in tatters,” Petumenos said of the case brought against Murphy.

Campion said he agreed with many of the factual points raised by Petumenos.

“When this indictment was returned back in April 2023, I advised the Superior Court at the time (that) I had very serious concerns,” Campion said.

Matthews said he will carefully read the prosecution and defense’s motions before issuing his ruling within 30 days.

Zachariah Hughes

Zachariah Hughes covers Anchorage government, the military, dog mushing, subsistence issues and general assignments for the Anchorage Daily News. He also helps produce the ADN's weekly politics podcast. Prior to joining the ADN, he worked in Alaska’s public radio network, and got his start in journalism at KNOM in Nome.