Crime & Courts

Nathanial Kangas guilty of first-degree murder in 2014 deaths of 2 Alaska State Troopers

A Fairbanks jury on Monday found Nathanial Kangas guilty of first-degree murder in the shooting deaths of Alaska state trooper Sgt. Patrick "Scott" Johnson and trooper Gabe Rich.

Kangas, 22, gunned down Johnson and Rich on May 1, 2014, as they attempted to arrest his father, Arvin Kangas, on a misdemeanor assault charge.

Nathanial Kangas, wearing a blue shirt and tan pants, entered the fourth-floor courtroom just before noon Monday. About 75 people filled the four rows of benches in the crowded courtroom, while more stood. The crowd included about a dozen uniformed law enforcement officers and many others in plainclothes from the troopers, the city and other agencies.

In addition to the murder verdict, the jury found Kangas guilty of third-degree assault on a Tanana village public safety officer and not guilty of tampering with physical evidence, charges related to moving the weapons of the officers. It found him guilty of tampering with evidence for moving marijuana plants.

The jury also found a "special verdict" that both Johnson and Rich were clearly identifiable peace officers engaged in the performance of their jobs. That means each murder count comes with a mandatory 99-year sentence, according to District Attorney Gregg Olson, who said that the nature of the case took a toll.

"In 16 years of prosecution it's been the most difficult and emotional case I've ever done," said Olson.

Superior Court Judge Paul Lyle asked if either side wanted to poll the members of the jury, and they declined. Lyle dismissed the jury -- seven men and five women -- at 12:37 p.m.

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The judge set a hearing for Friday to schedule sentencing, possibly in August.

The jury began deliberations Friday after three days of testimony by state witnesses who said that Nathanial Kangas had waited in the bedroom of the family home in Tanana with a rifle before he opened fire and shot the troopers after his father fought with the officers and they tumbled through the front door of the house.

Earlier Monday, the still-deliberating jury asked for clarification of rules about evidence tampering and for a replay of the audio recorded by one of the two troopers.

The defense presented no evidence during the trial in Fairbanks Superior Court, but an attorney for Kangas argued that the man reacted on an impulse and did not intend to kill the troopers. The prosecution said that he aimed and fired seven shots from the semi-automatic rifle with precision, killing two of the three men on the floor and leaving his father unharmed.

The defense had contended during the trial that Kangas should be convicted of manslaughter, not first-degree murder.

Arvin Kangas has already been convicted of evidence tampering, for making it appear that the troopers had drawn their weapons before they were killed.

Asked about Arvin Kangas' role in the situation, Olson said the man's actions precipitated the arrival of troopers in the community, setting off the tragic chain of events.

"We can say this about a lot of things in our life, if Arvin Kangas had cooperated with the troopers, we wouldn't be here today," Olson said. "We can always look back and find points that would have changed what did happen, but that doesn't reduce Nathanial's responsibility for killing two troopers."

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.

Dermot Cole

Former ADN columnist Dermot Cole is a longtime reporter, editor and author.

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