Crime & Courts

2 accused of murdering Fairbanks man to take his guns and truck

Two men have been charged with killing a man at his Fairbanks home in December, then taking a truck, guns and ammunition from his home.

Steven John Hartman, 39, and Noah Isaac Griffith, 18, each stand accused of first-degree and second-degree murder in the Dec. 10 death of 57-year-old Ronald McKnight. Alaska State Troopers said McKnight's body was found at a Roland Road residence. His truck -- which troopers said was stolen after his death -- was found after a request for public aid in locating it.

According to a Thursday criminal complaint against Hartman, McKnight's body was found next to his bed under a pillow and blanket; an autopsy found that he had died of multiple gunshot wounds. Troopers also found several live rounds of .22-caliber ammunition on the floor.

Several friends and acquaintances, including Hartman as well as McKnight's neighbor James Ward, had visited the home on Dec. 9 as McKnight worked on a classic car in the garage. One of them said she arrived that afternoon to find Hartman there, along with an unseen person in a steamed-up small car, whom McKnight called "Noah."

Ward said McKnight kept a small gray safe on a dresser in his bedroom closet, with its four-sided key usually kept on the key ring for his truck. A cache of handguns was also stored in the same room, hidden in a Makita tool bag under a service panel for a hot tub.

Ward said he fell asleep at McKnight's home at about 1 a.m. Dec. 10, then woke up and left at about 7 a.m.

When Ward realized he had forgotten his cellphone and returned to get it at about 12:30 p.m., he thought McKnight was sleeping when he first saw him, he said. After discovering McKnight was dead, Ward alerted neighbors, then called troopers at about 1:40 p.m.

According to the criminal complaint, neither the safe nor the tool bag was found at the scene. Ward said things were "missing and out of place" when he arrived, with clothes usually kept in the closet thrown on the bed, and boxes of .22 ammunition missing from the closet where McKnight kept them. In addition, the service panel behind which the guns were kept had been "ripped off."

Troopers obtained a search warrant for text messages from Hartman's phone and found texts to and from Griffith overnight on Dec. 9 in which the two appeared to discuss killing McKnight. Investigators later tracked the two phones to the vicinity of McKnight's home at the time.

Griffith was stopped in a Volkswagen Golf on Dec. 17. A juvenile with him in the vehicle told troopers she had seen Griffith leave his home carrying a Makita tool bag, before showing her guns he had put beneath the vehicle's back seat. When troopers obtained a search warrant for the Golf, they found the bag and three pistols -- all of which matched photos of guns on McKnight's cellphone.

Troopers seized Griffith's cellphone as evidence. Inside his home, they also found a Remington .30-06 rifle that tracked back to McKnight through federal gun records, as well as boxes of .22 ammunition matching the brand found on the floor near McKnight -- and a gray safe with a four-sided key.

Griffith was interviewed by troopers in January. With his lawyer present, he told them he wasn't involved in McKnight's death but had driven Hartman to McKnight's home so they could "do a deal" there. Afterward, he said, Hartman drove McKnight's truck to the Yak Estates apartments so a friend could drive it. The truck was found unlocked, with its keys in the ignition.

An Alaska inmate database listed Hartman and Griffith in custody at the Fairbanks Correctional Center Friday morning.