The trial for a man accused of a 2018 stabbing death in Yakutat has began in Juneau Superior Court at Dimond Courthouse. (Michael S. Lockett / Juneau Empire file)

The trial for a man accused of a 2018 stabbing death in Yakutat has began in Juneau Superior Court at Dimond Courthouse. (Michael S. Lockett / Juneau Empire file)

Jury selection begins in Yakutat killing trial

Potential jurors expressed qualms about COVID mitigation measures in place.

Juror selection began Tuesday in the trial of a man charged in the stabbing death of a man in Yakutat in 2018.

John L. Stapleton, originally from Washington, was arraigned in 2018 for charges of first-degree murder and two counts of second-degree murder following the death of John Fergerson Jr., 51.

Stapleton was indicted on Nov. 25, 2018. Now, Juneau Superior Court Judge Amy Mead is presiding over the case, expected she said to take several weeks to run through.

[City reports 2 buildings collapse as continuing rain stresses infrastructure]

“This trial is anticipated to be a rather long trial,” Mead said during her opening remarks to potential jurors.

Eric Hedland of the Public Defender Agency is defending Stapleton, while Juneau District Attorney Angie Kemp, recently selected to lead the Alaska Department of Law’s Criminal Division, leads the prosecution.

A number of potential jurors expressed qualms with the COVID-19 mitigation measures, with some claiming that they believed the state would expose them unduly to the virus that causes COVID-19 or expressing concerns about other jurors’ vaccination status.

Jury selection is part of a trial designed to eliminate jurors from the pool that might have undue bias in the case, due to a relation to people involved in the case, such as the victim or the defendant, or for other reasons that would render them less than impartial. The burden of proof is on the prosecution, who will have to prove to the jury beyond reasonable doubt that Stapleton is guilty.

The Empire previously reported that Yakutat Borough Police Department received a call from a woman in the early morning on Sunday, Oct. 14, 2018 from the cabins where Stapleton and Fergerson were staying that a man was not breathing. After arriving at the scene, said YBPD Chief Robert Beasley, told the Empire in 2018, officers found Stapleton attempting to give CPR to Fergerson, who they found dead with three stab wounds near the heart. Stapleton was put in custody, and Fergerson was pronounced dead at the scene. Alcohol was likely a factor in the incident, Beasley told the Empire.

At the time of the killing, it was the first killing in Yakutat in more than 20 years, following the 1996 murder of Sandra Perry by Robert Kowalski. Kowalski was convicted and sentenced in 2014; Kowalski appealed the conviction but it was upheld in 2018.

The opening statements are expected to begin Wednesday afternoon.

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

More in News

At a permafrost monitoring site northwest of Barrow years ago were researchers Max Brewer, Jerry Brown and Vladimir Romanovsky. (Courtesy Photo / Kenji Yoshikawa)
Alaska Science Forum: 30 years on semi-solid ground

People no longer squint at him with a puzzled look when he mentions what he studies.

The jury in a trial for a 2018 killing is currently sequestered as they deliberate. (Michael S. Lockett / Juneau Empire File)
Jury deliberations last through second day in trial for Yakutat killing

The jury will decide whether the defendant is guilty or innoncent of the charges.

It's a police car until you look closely. The eye shies away, the . (Juneau Empire File / Michael Penn)
Police calls for Friday, Jan. 28, 2022

This report contains public information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

Alaska Rep. David Eastman sits at his desk on the Alaska House floor in Juneau, Alaska, on March 5, 2020. (AP Photo / Becky Bohrer)
Eastman could be sanctioned over Oath Keeper ties

Actions being discussed include expulsion, censure or a vote of disapproval.

This undated electron microscope image made available by the U.S. National Institutes of Health in February 2020 shows the Novel Coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, yellow, emerging from the surface of cells, blue/pink, cultured in the lab. Also known as 2019-nCoV, the virus causes COVID-19. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, NIAID-RML
COVID at a Glance for Wednesday, Jan. 26

Numbers come from reports from the City and Borough of Juneau Emergency… Continue reading

It's a police car until you look closely and see the details don't quite match. (Juneau Empire File / Michael Penn)
Police calls for Thursday, Jan. 27, 2022

This report contains public information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

Mickey Prescott checks the smoking process. (Vivian Faith Prescott / For the Capital City Weekly)
Planet Alaska: Lessons from the smokehouse

Dear Readers, here are Lessons from the Smokehouse, things we’ve learned in 2021.

Most Read