ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — A civilian antenna technician convicted of gunning down two Alaska co-workers at a U.S Coast Guard base in 2012 has been sentenced to life in prison.
James Wells, 68, was convicted in October of killing Electrician’s Mate First Class James Hopkins, 41, and Richard Belisle, 51, a retired Coast Guard chief boatswain’s mate employed as a civilian. They were found dead at a Coast Guard communication station about 3 miles (4.8 kilometers) from the Coast Guard’s sprawling main base in Kodiak.
Wells continues to deny murdering his co-workers and said he will appeal. the Anchorage Daily News reported.
“I still maintain my innocence because I know I did not commit these murders,” he said at sentencing Tuesday.
Federal prosecutors said no person other than Wells, who worked at the station for more than 20 years, could have known the range of security cameras and how to escape detection. Wells concocted a false alibi, drove to the station in his wife’s sport utility vehicle, killed his co-workers and later left phone messages reporting he would be late because of a flat tire, prosecutors said.
“James Wells has received the sentence he deserves for snuffing out the lives of two fine men,” U.S. Attorney Bryan Schroder said in a statement. “The thought of a Coast Guard employee plotting and killing two of his shipmates is shocking and abhorrent in an organization known for its core values of honor, respect and devotion to duty.”
Wells was convicted of two counts of first-degree murder, two counts of murder of an officer or employee of the United States and two counts of possession of a firearm in relation to a crime of violence. An initial trial in 2014 also ended with a conviction. However, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals said the trial was flawed and reversed Wells’ conviction in December 2017.
The day of the murders, all three men were scheduled to begin work at 7 a.m. in the station’s “Rigger Shop” where antennas were built and maintained. Belisle’s security card opened the shop at 7 a.m. A security camera recorded Hopkins’ pickup arriving at 7:08 a.m.
Prosecutors said Wells drove onto the grounds out sight of security cameras, entered through a side door, shot his co-workers and fled within five minutes. Another Coast Guardsman reporting for work found the bodies at 7:30 a.m.
Hopkins was shot in building’s break room. Belisle died in the building’s office. Both were killed with a .44-caliber revolver, which was never found.
Suspicion immediately turned to Wells. Prosecutors said he was unhappy because the Coast Guard was reining in the independence he enjoyed for years and that the advancement of his co-workers made him less relevant.
Wells told investigators he had detected a soft tire on his pickup, stopped at the Kodiak airport to check it and returned home. However, prosecutors presented evidence that he instead got into his wife’s SUV parked at the airport, drove to the communication station, shot his co-workers, returned to the airport parking lot and then drove home. A nail found in Wells’ pickup tire had been manually inserted, investigators said.