Alaska State Trooper Andrew Adams holds up a knife identified as a possible weapon involved in the killing of a man in Yakutat several years ago as he testifies in court on Jan. 19, 2022. (Screenshot)

Alaska State Trooper Andrew Adams holds up a knife identified as a possible weapon involved in the killing of a man in Yakutat several years ago as he testifies in court on Jan. 19, 2022. (Screenshot)

Trooper who investigated Yakutat stabbing continues testimony

His testimony continues from Tuesday.

The prosecution and defense continued to question the Alaska State Trooper who investigated the scene of the killing of a man in Yakutat in 2018.

Trooper Andrew Adams answered questions about the scene and interrogation of suspects in the case on the sixth day of the trial.

The defendant, John Lee Stapleton, 50, is being tried for the killing of John Fergerson, 61. Stapleton is charged with two counts of second-degree murder and one count of first-degree murder. He faces up to 99 years in prison if convicted. The minimum sentence for first-degree murder is 30 years imprisonment, under Alaska statute.

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Adams was dispatched to investigate the murder, landing in Yakutat about 12 hours after the first 911 call. Adams testified that he began by interviewing Stapleton, followed by Tracy Sitherwood, who was also detained at the scene and taken to the Yakutat Borough Police Department.

“In any homicide, you’re not going to find all the pieces, because you weren’t there when it happened. But you do your best to remove the pieces that don’t belong, and get an idea what it looks like,” Adams testified. “In my unit, we investigate it as best we can, and if there’s enough to go forward, we give it to the district attorney.”

Public defender Eric Hedland, leading the defense, questioned Adams at length on his interview technique, including whether it was toned conversationally or more aggressively.

“At the beginning of the investigation you don’t know everything you will at the end,” Adams said. “You just do the best you can and adjust to new information as you go.”

A knife found beneath Fergerson, which Adams displayed in court, was identified as a possible weapon in the killing; a regular kitchen knife, with a 3-inch blade.

“In the case of a fight, there may be injuries consistent with someone fighting someone else off,” Adams said. “In this case, there was a knife used, so we’d be looking for cuts, or anything like that.”

A possibly important detail, a cut on the side of Stapleton’s hand, was the focus of many of the questions from both attorneys, with the picture of the injury displayed in court.

A wound like that could have occurred if someone was holding the knife in a certain way, and, without a guard like those present on combat knives, his hand slipped, as can happen, Adams said.

“What could happen is that the hand slips off the handle and onto the blade itself, resulting in injury,” Adams said. “I was trying to see why he was injured in that manner. During that part of the investigation we’re trying to get the pieces together and fit them together like a puzzle. During the early parts of the investigation, we don’t have very many pieces.”

After talking to Stapleton and Sitherwood, Adams said he investigated the scene of the stabbing, guarded by the YBPD, where Fergerson’s body remained. Adams said he noted important details, such as blood spatters located more than 20 feet from the body, that might be relevant to the case.

“There was some blood on the wall near the door to the bedroom right there,” Adams said. “I believe there was some in the kitchen.”

They also did a surface-level investigation of Fergerson’s body, though Adams said they try not to disturb the victim’s corpse in an investigation excessively.

“On Mr. Fergerson we did a cursory look, but we don’t want to disturb stuff before we send him off to the medical examiner’s office where they do a more thorough examination,” Adams said. ”It’s common for us to miss stuff at the crime scene and the medical examiner comes back with all sorts of stuff.”

Hedland also pressed Adams on the nature of the blood spatters in the residence. Adams was released from the trial following district attorney Angie Kemp’s follow-up questions on Wednesday afternoon. The trial will resume at 8:30 a.m. Thursday.

• Contact reporter Michael S. Lockett at (757) 621-1197 or mlockett@juneauempire.com.

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