Joshua Wade's jailhouse marriage to a witness in his upcoming murder trial is invalid because it was conducted by telephone, a federal judge has ruled. In addition, it violated Department of Corrections policy, the judge said.
In an order filed Wednesday, Judge Ralph Beistline ruled Wade's union to his intermittent girlfriend, Lisa Andrews, was void because the ceremony was not conducted in each other's presence, as is required under Alaska law.
"The defendant and Andrews are not married," Beistline wrote.
Prosecutors have portrayed the 2008 marriage as a farce aimed at preventing Andrews, 46, from testifying against Wade, 29.
"Because the marriage is void, any attempt to invoke the spousal testimonial privilege is invalid," Beistline ruled.
The marital, or spousal, privilege bars a husband and wife from testifying against one another and protects marital communications.
The marriage in early 2008 was performed in a 10-minute phone call after the four-person wedding party showed up for a jailhouse visit and was turned away because only three visitors are allowed at a time.
At the time, Wade was being held on a bank fraud charge connected to the disappearance of Mindy Schloss, a nurse practitioner living next door to him in Sand Lake.
In April 2008 Wade was indicted on federal charges that allege he tortured and killed Schloss. Federal prosecutors are seeking the death penalty. Court documents indicate Andrews has given investigators pertinent information, which they presumably will want her to repeat to a jury from the witness stand during Wade's trial.
The defense argued that telephonic wedding ceremonies are recognized in Alaska and that the couple married to ensure they could visit while Wade was in prison. The defense also challenged whether the federal court has jurisdiction to decide if a state-certified marriage is valid.
In his order, Beistline wrote that the court had to first decide if the marriage was valid in order to determine whether marital privilege applies.
Alaska law says parties must be married in the presence of each other and at least two witnesses. There is no Alaska law spelling out whether a teleconference represents "presence," but Wade was clearly not present at the ceremony in the common understanding of the word, the judge wrote.
The marriage was also invalid because Wade intentionally failed to request Corrections' permission. A prisoner's right to marry is not absolute and the state has an interest in regulating their actions, the judge wrote.
Even if the marriage were valid, spousal privilege would not apply because the circumstances of the marriage suggest it was not entered into to foster a long-term emotional connection, he wrote.
"A marriage that has been secretly and hastily carried out, solemnized in manner that casts doubt as to the validity of the marriage at all, and conducted on the eve of trial between a defendant and a key witness, in circumstances such as exist in this case, would not likely merit protection at the expense of justice," Beistline wrote.
Find James Halpin online at adn.com/contact/jhalpin or call him at 257-4589.
By JAMES HALPIN
Alaska Dispatch Publishing