Crime & Courts

Superior Court judge scraps Kenai grand jury’s perjury charge against retired Alaska judge

An Anchorage Superior Court judge has dismissed an extremely unusual criminal charge against a retired judge that came out of a broad investigation by a Kenai grand jury.

Judge Thomas A. Matthews’ ruling was a decisive victory for former judge Margaret Murphy and a blow to conservative legal activists who have led a longstanding and unorthodox campaign against the Alaska Court System.

Murphy was charged at the end of April 2023 with one count of perjury through an indictment that contained almost no specific details. The case was atypical for a number of reasons, chief among them that the charge came from a grand jury instead of a prosecutor within the state’s Department of Law.

For well over a decade, a small, vocal group of activists has insisted that Alaska grand juries, composed of citizens, have the power to investigate and issue criminal charges on their own. That push has been led by David Haeg, a Kenai resident who was convicted in 2005 of unlawfully hunting wolves and has spent the years since alleging widespread corruption in Alaska’s legal system.

Murphy — who was a district court judge in Homer when she retired in 2019 — was the magistrate judge who presided over Haeg’s original case. He went on to allege that Murphy and law enforcement conspired against him, an argument that he lost in a subsequent appeal.

In January, Matthews heard arguments for and against dismissing the perjury charge from Murphy’s attorneys and the Alaska Department of Law. Unusually, the case has been handled by a special prosecutor appointed by the Department of Law, Clint Campion — a former Anchorage district attorney who has since gone into private practice — instead of a state attorney.

Defense attorneys said the case should be tossed out for four separate reasons, some of which were substantive, others technical and legalistic. Matthews agreed with all four, soundly rejecting that the charge against Murphy was in any way valid.


The grand jury lacked the legally required quorum of 12 people to issue an indictment, a point both sides agreed on. Though 12 jurors heard evidence, one left the state and declined to participate further in the process by the time the body issued its indictment.

“Because there was not a quorum, the indictment is invalid,” Matthews wrote in his decision, issued Tuesday.

He also ruled that because the indictment itself was so exceptionally vague and devoid of details, it failed to meet basic legal standards. Matthews agreed with the defense that Campion did not provide grand jurists with proper, accurate instructions.

“His failure to do so is fatal to this indictment,” Matthews wrote.

His last argument for dismissing the charge hit on some of the fuller context underlying the case. Matthews ruled that the grand jury was flooded with improperly presented evidence. Much of it came from Haeg, who testified as a witness for hours before the grand jury and supplied them with “approximately 1,500 pages of documents.”

“Mr. Haeg’s ‘testimony’ was essentially a freeform lecture by Mr. Haeg to the grand jury in which he outlined his grievances about lawyers, judges and other public officials, his theories about corruption and the legal system, and his own personal views about what the law should be,” Matthews wrote. “From this one example — the testimony by David Haeg — there is little doubt that the grand jury was exposed to hours and hours of inadmissible hearsay and speculative testimony that would not be permitted in a trial.”

Jeffrey Robinson, an attorney for Murphy, said he could not yet comment on the ruling.

Campion said he was reviewing the order for dismissal and a deadline of March 8 to decide whether he would present the case again to another grand jury to seek a new indictment.

“I acknowledge Judge Matthews’ thorough approach to this unusual case,” Campion wrote in an email Tuesday. “I have not made a decision regarding the potential for presenting this case to another grand jury.”

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.