Public defender Eric Hedland, left, and District Attorney Angie Kemp consult with Superior Court Judge Amy Mead on Jan. 24, 2022 during a trial of a man accused of killing another man in Yakutat in 2018. (Screenshot)

Public defender Eric Hedland, left, and District Attorney Angie Kemp consult with Superior Court Judge Amy Mead on Jan. 24, 2022 during a trial of a man accused of killing another man in Yakutat in 2018. (Screenshot)

State rests after prosecution’s final witness in trial for killing

The defense will now bring forth its witnesses.

The prosecution has interviewed their final witness in the trial for a killing in Yakutat in 2018.

Witnesses Monday included an Alaska State Trooper, a former policeman and the wife of a man who died after being stabbed.

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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Trooper Ted Nordgaarden of the Alaska Bureau of investigation, who, alongside Trooper Andrew Adams, was tasked with investigating the incident, finished his testimony Monday morning.

Nordgaarden recounted the investigation and spoke about the dangers of forming a hypothesis and than making the facts fit, rather than the other way around.

“(You get) tunnel vision. You get focused on one thing,” Nordgaarden said. “You can’t see the forest for the trees because you’re focused on one thing.”

Nordgaarden also talked about the physical evidence to be recovered from the knife found below Fergerson, sodden in his blood. Fingerprints on the knife, if they could be recovered, could be critical evidence.

“There was a quantity of fluid — there was a lot to be tested,” Nordgaarden said. “Blood is thick. If the item – in this case the knife – had had fingerprints, it could fill in the ridges.”

No such fingerprints were found, Nordgaarden testified. All of the blood on the knife that could be identified was from Fergerson. Paul Pajak, formerly an officer with the Yakutat Borough Police Department, was one of the first to respond.

“I received a 911 call on the radio and didn’t get any further information and they hung up or the call was terminated somehow,” Pajak testified. “I walked inside and saw Mr. Ferguson laying on the floor. I initially thought it was a medical emergency.”

Pajak said that Fergerson’s shirts were sodden with sticky, drying blood.

“I saw some puncture wounds and a lot of blood coagulated between the layers he was wearing,” Pajak said. “It wasn’t liquidy, it had sat in there for a bit.”

Pajak turned on his body camera some time after responding to the call, by which point Stapleton and Sitherwood were already cuffed. Pajak said he also cleared the house to make sure there was no one else around.

“I was assuming the victim had been stabbed. I didn’t know if anyone else was in the residence,” Pajak said. “The next thing was to clear the house, to make sure there weren’t any other individuals in any other rooms that I wasn’t aware of.”

Other law enforcement personnel and emergency medical personnel arrived and secured the rest of the scene, attempting unsuccessfully to revive Fergerson.

Fergerson’s wife, Frances Elaine Fergerson, also testified briefly before the defense rested, detailing the length of their marriage and some details of Fergerson’s early life, including his service in one of the Army’s airborne units.

The defense will begin calling their witnesses on Tuesday morning.

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

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