Investigator Markus Bressler, defendant John Stapleton, and public defender Eric Hedland sit in court on Jan. 13, 2022. (Michael S. Lockett / Juneau Empire File)

Investigator Markus Bressler, defendant John Stapleton, and public defender Eric Hedland sit in court on Jan. 13, 2022. (Michael S. Lockett / Juneau Empire File)

Man says 2018 stabbing death was accidental

With both prosecution and defense done bringing witnesses, the trial is entering its final stages.

A man accused of killing his friend in Yakutat in 2018 testified in court Tuesday morning.

With Tuesday’s witnesses, the defense sat, and on Wednesday, the jury will hear closing statements and begin their deliberations.

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.

The proescutors finished with their witnesses on Monday.

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Fergerson’s death occurred after long day of drinking. Stapleton testified that he woke up after falling asleep in the car on the way back to the residence he was staying at with Fergerson.

“I woke up wet and cold ,and I got out of the car and stumbled to the door. As I got to the house I heard John and Tracy (Sitherwood) talking,” Stapleton said. “As I walked in, Tracy looked up and said ‘Oh, there he is’ or something, and John was angry. He said ‘This whole trip you’ve been acting way too wild.’”

Stapleton said Fergerson confronted him over boorish, inappropriate behavior that Stapleton said he had displayed throughout the trip.

“I’m not really a hard alcohol drinker. I’m more of a beer drinker. So when I drink hard alcohol I might have embarrassed myself,” Stapleton said. “I kept cracking jokes that were inappropriate. I wasn’t being a mean drunk or anything, but I was being a turd.”

Stapleton said that instead of dealing with Fergerson, he went to the kitchen to get something to eat. Stapleton’s blood alcohol level tested at .282 several hours later, according Officer John Waldron of the Yakutat Borough Police Department, a previous witness.

“I walked back through the utility room back into the kitchen. I wasn’t going to deal with it,” Stapleton said. “I dropped trou. After I did that, I wanted something to eat. I reached in and grabbed the smallest knife to cut the steak and the cobbler. I heard John — he hadn’t stopped, but I was ignoring him.”

Stapleton said that Fergerson entered the kitchen at that point.

“I was between the counter and him. I was like, ‘Get off me,’” Stapleton testified, making a two-handed pushing motion. “I just pushed him.”

Stapleton said it was an accident, holding the knife at the time.

“I did not stab the man on purpose. I was not angry. There was nothing going on,” Stapleton said. “He was drunk and in my face. And I pushed him off, and there was a knife in my hand.”

Stapleton said he didn’t push Fergerson hard, but did push off more than once.

“He took a few steps into the living room. He kinda put his hands on his knees,” Stapleton said. “He straightened up, took about two more steps, and then he sat down, laid down, and he had blood coming out of his mouth. I freaked out.”

Stapleton said he tried to administer first aid. He said he was never able to get a pulse from Fergerson.

“I ran through the motions of CPR. I checked for a pulse, but I couldn’t feel anything. I looked at him, he looked like he was breathing,” Stapleton said. “About then Tracy came in. I pointed at her — hat’s one of the things they teach us, to point at someone — and I said, go call 911.”

Stapleton testified that he didn’t connect his holding of the knife and Fergerson’s sudden unresponsiveness.

“I didn’t know what was going on,” Stapleton said. “I didn’t know if he was having a heart attack or what was going on.”

Stapleton protested his innocence, saying it wasn’t a deliberate or premeditated act, but a terrible accident.

“I’m 50. I’m at the end of my life. I don’t want them to take up drinking or be angry,” Stapleton said of Fergerson’s family. “I want Elaine to be proud of her husband and know that he didn’t die from some weird petty jealousy. I don’t know why they’re saying that I even did it.”

Stapleton insisted his version of events was the truth.

“This didn’t happen the way they’re saying,” Stapleton said. “I thought when I talked to the troopers, justice was finding the truth. It was finding out what happened.”

The defense’s lead investigator, Markus Bressler, also testified. Bressler went over some of the details of his own investigation of the scene. A former co-worker of Stapleton’s also testified.

With that testimony, the defense rested. Beginning Wednesday morning, both sides will issue their closing statements and the jury will deliberate on the verdict.

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

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