Jay Barrett/KMXT with Alexandra Gutierrez/APRN
The man convicted of double murder at the Kodiak Coast Guard Base two years ago will spend the rest of his life in federal prison. 63-year-old James Wells was sentenced Tuesday to four consecutive life sentences in Anchorage federal court by Judge Ralph Beistline.
During sentencing, Wells maintained his innocence, saying “we all suffered for this tragedy.” His defense attorney, federal public defender Rich Curtner, said “the killer is still out there.”
However, in handing down his sentence, Beistline said Wells was a cold-blooded killer who has shown no remorse. He said Wells was the only person who had motive and opportunity in the deaths of his coworkers, Richard Belisle and James Hopkins.
The evidence was overwhelming, Beistline said, adding “the real killer is sitting at the table in front of us.”
U.S. Attorney Karen Loeffler said after the sentencing that justice was served.
“This was really one of the most planned, premeditated and cold blooded murders that we’ve ever seen,” she said.
The federal prosecutors’ case was largely circumstantial, as the murder weapon, a 44-magnum handgun, was never found, and there were no witnesses. Nevertheless, the jury found him guilty of first degree murder on April 25th after deliberating less than a day. The trial lasted 19 days.
The widows of both men Wells killed also spoke at the sentencing, and both told him to “rot in hell.”
Nicola Belisle said that no sentence would ever be enough.
Wells was not arrested until 10 months after the murders while the FBI tried to build the case against him. Belisle said she spent that time in fear of her life, worried Wells would also kill her or her children in an attempt to stop the investigation. She spoke of sitting in her home across the street from Wells’ house with a loaded firearm, waiting for him to come after her.
“I’m still having to look at his house every single day. I want to burn it down. It needs to go away,” Belisle said. “That’s my ultimate goal so that I don’t have to look at it for the rest of my life, and my children, my potential grandchildren that they don’t ever have to sit in our family home and see that house.”
Belisle may get that chance, as Judge Beistline said the victims’ families are due restitution.
Wells can appeal the sentencing within 14 days.
Federal Judge Ralph Beistline has sentenced convicted CommSta killer Jim Wells to four consecutive life terms in the deaths of retired Chief Petty Officer Richard Belisle and Petty Officer 1st Class James Hopkins two years ago. More details on the KMXT Midday Report.
Tuesday morning at 9 a.m. the convicted killer in the 2012 Kodiak CommSta murders will be sentenced.
James “Jim” Wells was convicted 10 weeks ago of killing two of his co-workers, Petty Officer 1st Class James Hopkins and retired Chief Petty Officer Richard Belisle, at the Kodiak Coast Guard Base communications station.
Prosecutors contended Wells, also a retired Coast Guardsman, resented the growing influence of Belisle and Hopkins in the shop where he had been a nationally recognized antenna expert, and shot them both to death on April 12th, 2012.
The federal prosecutors did not seek the death penalty for Wells, but the 62-year-old will likely spend the rest of his life in prison.
KMXT will have more during the Midday Report on Tuesday.
Now that the jury has returned a guilty verdict against James Wells in the Coast Guard CommSta murder trial, Nicola Belisle, the widow of retired Chief Petty Officer Richard Belisle, said she finally felt free to comment on the shooting deaths of her husband and co-worker Petty Officer First Class James Hopkins on April 12, 2012. She spoke with KMXT’s Jay Barrett Friday afternoon.
A federal jury in Anchorage today (Friday) convicted James Wells of murder in the shooting deaths of two of his co-workers at Coast Guard communications station Kodiak two years ago.
Wells, 62, was charged in the 2012 shooting deaths of Coast Guard Petty Officer 1st Class James Hopkins and retired Chief Petty Officer Richard Belisle. Wells did not testify at his trial.
Jurors began deliberating yesterday (Thursday) afternoon, and a day later, found Wells guilty of two counts each of first-degree murder, murder of an officer or employee of the United States, and possession of a firearm in a crime of violence.
Outside the courtroom, Hopkins’ widow, Deborah, said she was satisfied with the verdict and now her husband could rest. She said the guilty verdict will help with closure, but not completely.
Federal prosecutors earlier said they would not seek the death penalty if Wells was convicted. He faces life in prison, and his sentencing was set for July 8.
Federal public defender Rich Curtner had no comment on the verdict.
The victims were found in the morning of April 12, 2012, in the CommSta rigging shop, where antennas are built and repaired. Hopkins, 41, was an electronics technician from Vergennes, Vermont. Belisle, 51, was a former chief petty officer who continued service to the Coast Guard as a civilian employee.
Prosecutors contended Wells, also a retired Coast Guardsman employed as a civilian technician, resented the growing influence of Belisle and Hopkins in the shop where he had been a nationally recognized antenna expert. Prosecutors said Wells meticulously planned an alibi, sneaked onto the communications station and gunned the two men down.
According to the government’s theory, after the shootings, Wells went back home and called Hopkins’ work phone, leaving a message saying he would be late for work because of a flat tire. Prosecutors say the flat tire was a ruse to give him a cover story for committing the murders.
According to authorities, Wells told the FBI he started driving to work, detected a soft tire, stopped at a hotel near the Kodiak airport entrance, checked the tire and returned home to change it.
A security camera at the nearby Coast Guard main gate recorded his truck heading for the communication station shortly before 7 a.m. and driving in the opposite direction toward his home 34 minutes later.
Wells’ wife was out of town the day of the shooting, and her blue SUV was parked at the Kodiak airport not far from the communications station. Investigators believe a blue vehicle seen in blurry security footage belonged to Wells’ wife and concluded he switched cars, waited for Hopkins to drive by, followed him to the communications station and shot him and Belisle.
Curtner and defense attorney Peter Offenbecher of Seattle contended authorities too quickly focused on Wells and ignored other possible suspects. They said prosecutors had no eyewitnesses, no confession, no murder weapon and no physical evidence linking Wells to the homicides. ###
ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — A federal jury in Alaska has convicted James Wells of murder in the shooting deaths of two of his co-workers at Coast Guard communications station Kodiak.
The jury returned its verdict afternoon Friday in the case of the 62-year-old Wells. He was charged with killing Coast Guard Petty Officer 1st Class James Hopkins and retired Chief Petty Officer Richard Belisle in April 2012.
Prosecutors had alleged Wells was unhappy that he had become increasingly irrelevant on the job through the advancement of the victims.
The jury convicted Wells of six felony charges: two counts each of first-degree murder, murder of a U.S. officer and use of a firearm in a violent crime.
Federal prosecutors said earlier they would not seek the death penalty.