Ted Nordgaarden of the Alaska Bureau of Investigation imitates the gesture made by the defendant during the trial of a man charged with killing another man in Yakutat in 2018. (Screenshot)

Ted Nordgaarden of the Alaska Bureau of Investigation imitates the gesture made by the defendant during the trial of a man charged with killing another man in Yakutat in 2018. (Screenshot)

Investigator testifies as trial concludes second week

The jury watched video of the defendant’s initial interview in custody.

Editor’s note: A recording played in court included multiple profanities. This article includes a reference to vulgar language.

An investigator who looked into the killing of a man in Yakutat in 2018 testified in court Friday about his interview with the defendant.

It marks the eighth day of the trial, which is expected to go at least another week, according to presiding judge, Superior Court Judge Amy Mead. It’s one of the first major trials since trials resumed, following an order from the chief justice of the Alaska Supreme Court.

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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District attorney Angie Kemp played the recording of Alaska State Troopers Ted Nordgaarden and Andrew Adams, tasked to investigate Fergerson’s stabbing death, as they interviewed Stapleton for the first time shortly after the incident.

The video of the interview, which occurred at the Yakutat Borough Police Department, shows Stapleton, clad in undershirt and boxers as he talks to the officers. Nordgaarden noted in court that Stapleton’s demeanor in the beginning of the interview is polite, if subdued. In the video, after asking if he was being charged with anything, Stapleton notes that he had been drinking for a considerable time up till the 911 call.

In the video, the troopers inquire about the details of Stapleton’s relationship with Tracy Sitherwood before talking Stapleton through the events of the weekend, leading up to the stabbing. Stapleton says in the video that Fergerson was being confrontational in the kitchen while Stapleton was trying to eat a steak or some pie.

“I was so drunk, I tried to push him off me but I had a knife in my hand,” Stapleton says in the video. “It was like, ‘Get off me,’ and I was so f – – – – – – drunk.”

Stapleton, in the video, used further profanity to describe how drunk he was. He went on to say that whatever happened, of which he says he’s not entirely certain, was not a deliberate act.

“John was my best friend. I did not bring him up here for this craziness to happen. I’m not even sure what happened,” Stapleton said. “I love that man. He was the only person who treated me decent in this life. That’s why I brought him up here, not to do something stupid.”

Other witnesses this week have included expert witnesses from the Alaska medical examiner’s office and the state crime lab, who described the nature of the wounds that killed Fergerson to the jury: three stab wounds, including a fatal one lancing between the ribs, into Fergerson’s heart, punching through the pericardium. Forensic scientist Julia Webb testified about the origin of the blood on the blade found below Fergerson’s corpse; all the blood on the knife that could be identified belonged to Fergerson, Webb said.

Other witnesses who testified include Adams, who investigated the crime scene with Nordgaarden, and YBPD Officer John Waldron, who, along with Officer Paul Pajak, were the first on scene after Sitherwood called 911, saying that Fergerson was lying on the floor, nonresponsive. Waldron testified about how Pajak, while trying to prepare Fergerson for defibrillation, discovered the stab wounds that turned the call from a medical one to a criminal one.

The trial will resume on Monday morning.

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

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