Alaska News Nightly: September 27, 2010

Individual news stories are posted in the Alaska News category and you can subscribe to APRN’s news feeds via email, podcast and RSS.

Download Audio (MP3)

Hearings Begin for Soldiers Accused of Murdering Afghan Civilians
Austin Jenkins, NNN – Washington
A hearing for the first of five soldiers accused of deliberately killing Afghan civilians this year has begun with more than a dozen witnesses asserting their right to remain silent – including the lieutenant who headed their platoon.

Cpl. Jeremy Morlock of Wasilla, Alaska, faces charges including premeditated murder in the deaths of three civilians. Army prosecutors are relying heavily on statements Morlock made in which he described the plot as an effort to murder the civilians for sport.

The hearing will determine whether Morlock’s case proceeds to a court martial.

The prosecution of the five soldiers for allegedly murdering Afghan civilians appears to hinge on videotaped testimony, rather than hard evidence. Army investigators acknowledged Monday they never recovered the bodies of the three Afghan men the soldiers are accused of murdering earlier this year. This fact came out during the hearing in the case to determine if Morlock should face court-martial for murder. His attorney Michael Waddington hopes to show the investigation into the killings was shoddy.

In fact, investigators never visited two of the murder scenes in Afghanistan because it was too dangerous. Morlock described the killings in a videotaped statement to Army investigators. But his attorneys say he was doped up on a medley of prescription drugs at the time he described his role in the killings. Army prosecutors say they have multiple corroborating stories from soldiers about what happened and photographic evidence of the crimes. Army Special Agent Anderson Wagner testified today that Morlock’s videotaped statement describing how he and his colleagues randomly killed the three Afghan civilians appeared to be a reliable account.

Agent Wagner testified that Morlock was articulate during the interviews.

The hearing at Joint Base Lewis-McChord will determine whether the case proceeds to a court martial. Morlock and the others could face the death penalty if convicted.

Subsistence Violation Could Prompt Policy Changes
Robert Woolsey, KCAW – Sitka
The dismissal earlier this month of a subsistence violation against Senator Albert Kookesh could prompt major changes in the state’s subsistence fishing policy – if the ruling stands up to an expected appeal.

Walker Will Not Run As A Write-In Candidate
Dave Donaldson, APRN – Juneau
Bill Walker says he will not continue his gubernatorial bid.   He says finishing second in the Republican primary last month – with about a third of the vote – led him to consider pursuing his chances through a write-in campaign.  But he doesn’t think it’s likely he could win in a three candidate race.

Walker’s major opponents – Republican Sean Parnell and Democrat Ethan Berkowitz – have both made attempts to get the support of the 35,000 people who voted for Walker in the Primary election.

Berkowitz says he has met with Walker and offered him a role in his administration to lead his efforts to develop the All-Alaska gas project.  He also says Walker raised other important issues that need to be considered.

Parnell issued a press release asking Walker’s supporters to, quote, “stand together against the Obama team in Alaska, Ethan Berkowitz and Diane Benson.” Walker says he is not likely to endorse either candidate.

Prosecutor in Senator Stevens Case Commits Suicide
Libby Casey, APRN – Washington DC
One of the lead lawyers who prosecuted Senator Ted Stevens has killed himself, according to NPR.  Nicholas Marsh committed suicide over the weekend.  He was one of the main prosecutors of Ted Stevens two years ago.  While Stevens was convicted of lying on financial disclosure forms, the case was ultimately thrown out because the prosecutors were accused of withholding vital information from Stevens’ lawyers. The judge in the case appointed a special prosecutor to investigate whether Marsh and the other lawyers broke the law, and the Justice

Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility also looked into it. NPR says the special prosecutor’s report is due out in a few weeks, and that a lawyer for Marsh says he thought his client would not be charged.

Commission Discusses Oil Spill Prevention
Libby Casey, APRN – Washington DC
The commission put together by President Obama to look at the BP oil blowout in the Gulf of Mexico and how to prevent future spills talked over Arctic development on Monday.  At a Washington, D.C hearing, commissioner Fran Ulmer, who’s also the chancellor of the University of Alaska Anchorage and served as the state’s Lieutenant Governor, asked Alaska Senator Mark Begich about bills he’s proposed to better protect against spills up north.

Begich says he expects to see energy legislation at the end of this year or early next year, which may contain some items he’s pushing, like increasing the financial liability for oil corporations and requiring the companies to establish independent escrow accounts for spill victim compensation.  But Begich says the Obama Administration shouldn’t wait for Congress to act before it allows development plans to start moving forward.

The Vice President of Shell Oil Alaska, Pete Slaiby, says the delay is costing Shell three-quarters of a million dollars a day.  He told the panel Shell is taking extra precautions so that when work can go forward, it’s exceeding federal guidelines.

But the mayor of the North Slope Borough, Mayor Edward Itta, testified by video-conference from his office in Alaska. He voiced concerns that the Arctic’s extreme conditions will make any oil spill cleanup much more difficult than in the Gulf of Mexico.

Salazar put a halt on Arctic drilling plans until a study is completed in March on Arctic oil issues.  The National Commission on offshore drilling and the BP Deepwater Horizon Spill plans to submit a report to President Obama on its findings later this year.

Efforts Expanding to Keep Alaska Shellfish Safe to Eat
Maria Dudzak, KRBD – Ketchikan
Researchers, students, educators and shellfish farmers met in Ketchikan last week to learn how to identify harmful algal blooms and analyze samples.  Organizers are hoping expanded monitoring efforts will help keep the Alaska’s shellfish industry safe.

Officials Prepare Public for Emergencies
Joaqlin Estus, KNBA – Anchorage
Alaska gets its fair share of disasters such as severe storms, mudslides, volcanic eruptions, blizzards, and wildfires.  Several villages have flooded in the past few years. In 2005, Kaktovik lost its power source for days, during high winds and temperatures of 20-below.  And just this past week, Anchorage got a warning with a 4.9 magnitude earthquake and a series of aftershocks. There are ways to prepare, however and state officials are trying to get the information out during Emergency Preparedness month.

Alaskan Brewing Company Loses Appeal Over Distribution Rights
Matt Miller, KTOO – Juneau
Juneau’s homegrown brewery has lost an appeal in a multi-million dollar case over distribution rights in Washington State. But company owners say it’s not going to affect their bottom-line.