It was only a couple months after paroled murderer Kenneth Wahl left an Anchorage halfway house in 2009 that he was charged with his second killing in the city.
This time, his victim was tiny Elisa Orcutt, 47, found beaten to death in her Spenard home, prosecutors told a jury as Wahl's trial began this week.
Evidence including a bloody footprint, a toolbox Wahl took from Orcutt's house, and a neighbor's surveillance video link Wahl to her killing. It is unclear what motive Wahl, 49, had for killing Orcutt, whom he'd helped as a handyman, the prosecutors said.
Wahl's lawyers have attacked the validity of the evidence and told the jurors that Wahl is innocent in Orcutt's killing.
While both sides continue to describe their version of the events surrounding Orcutt's death, there is one part of the story that, due to trial rules, they are not allowed to discuss: Wahl's past conviction for murder.
In 1983, Wahl was 22 when he had a one-time sexual encounter with Edward Delany, 40, then fatally stabbed the junior high counselor dozens of times, police said. Wahl pleaded no contest to a count of first-degree murder two years later.
According to court records, Wahl served roughly 20 years of his 45-year sentence when a parole board released him from prison. After parole violations put him back behind bars four more times, the board released Wahl each time.
In April 2009, Wahl was on parole again and ordered to stay at a halfway house when he either walked away from the halfway house or failed to show up there as scheduled. The court issued a felony warrant for his arrest.
Later that month, he showed up at Collette Fry's house offering to do yard work, Fry testified at the murder trial Tuesday. Fry, who lives within view of Orcutt's house on Cambridge Way, decided to let Wahl stay in a camper in her driveway, she said.
"I believe that I offered it," Fry said. "Some homeless men had turned up dead, and I just thought it might be a nice gesture."
Wahl helped Fry clean up her yard and walk her dogs in exchange for staying in the camper, she said. Wahl liked to draw and write poetry, she said. At one point, he started doing yard work for Orcutt, whom Fry described as quirky.
Orcutt was going through a divorce, according to her lawyer, Jody Brion, who testified Monday. Orcutt's husband had been diagnosed with dementia and filed for the divorce, which caused Orcutt anxiety, Brion said. Orcutt was petite, "like a little bird," and had pain in her back and legs, the lawyer said. She also suffered from bipolar disorder, he said.
It was not uncommon for Orcutt to miss appointments, Brion said. The lawyer said he went to her house June 19 to take pictures of the house and Orcutt's possessions for the divorce proceedings coming up the next week.
One of the pictures showed a yellow toolbox in Orcutt's home that police officers later found in the camper where Wahl was living, Assistant District Attorney Adam Alexander told the jury in his opening statement Monday.
Orcutt failed to appear in court for the divorce hearing, but a judge granted the divorce anyway. Brion said he tried unsuccessfully to reach her by phone. When nobody answered the door at the house, Brion got a key from Orcutt's brother, he said. Brion said he smelled something awful inside and thought it was Orcutt's cats. He did not find his client and called police.
A police officer, Timothy McCuelly, found Orcutt dead in a bedroom -- she was surrounded by blood and there was a television set on top of her, McCuelly testified. Because the death appeared suspicious, detectives and a crime scene investigation team were called in.
The officers wore gloves, which is usual, and also plastic shoe covers, said Officer Derek Sitz, who photographed the scene, in his testimony Tuesday.
"We knew there was quite a bit of blood near the deceased," Sitz said.
Sitz described Orcutt's house as cluttered, with boxes in every room, including stacks of them in the bedroom where she was found. Their examination of the scene took about 18 hours, he said.
One piece of evidence collected was a flattened cardboard box, said Alexander, the prosecutor. Officers found a pair of black boots under the camper where Wahl stayed, Alexander said.
"That pair of boots was processed by the crime lab. The sole pattern was consistent with the bloody footprint found at the scene on the cardboard box," Alexander said.
Then detectives learned Orcutt's neighbor had several surveillance cameras. Video from the cameras showed Wahl coming and going from Orcutt's home in the days just before she was found dead, Alexander said.
Julia Moudy, Wahl's lawyer, has said she plans to prove that police botched their investigation. For example, there are missing parts from the video recordings, she said.
"Mr. Wahl is innocent," Moudy said Tuesday. "He didn't kill her."
The trial continues Wednesday.
Reach Casey Grove at firstname.lastname@example.org or 257-4589.
By CASEY GROVE
Alaska Dispatch Publishing