Superior Court Judge Amy Mead delivers an instruction to the jury on Jan. 13, 2021 as she presides over the trial of a man charged with killing another man in Yakutat in 2018. (Michael S. Lockett / Juneau Empire File)

Superior Court Judge Amy Mead delivers an instruction to the jury on Jan. 13, 2021 as she presides over the trial of a man charged with killing another man in Yakutat in 2018. (Michael S. Lockett / Juneau Empire File)

Trial continues as major witness testifies

She found the victim dead and called 911.

The woman who called 911 after walking in to find a man dead testified in a trial for the killing of a man in Yakutat in 2018.

Tracy Sitherwood took the stand Friday in the trial of John Stapleton, 50, who faces charges of two counts of second-degree murder and one count of first-degree murder in the 2018 stabbing death of John Fergerson, 61

In the course of an evening of heavy drinking, Sitherwood was spending time in the residence where Stapleton and Fergerson were staying. Stapleton and Sitherwood had been dating for about two years, but had recently broken up, Sitherwood said.

They had arrived at the residence several hours earlier, Sitherwood said. Sitherwood testified she didn’t remember arriving home, but she did recall hanging out with Fergerson around midnight, as Fergerson watched TVand they casually chatted.

“We were just talking about fishing and getting halibut,” Sitherwood testified. “It was a brief conversation in between the TV.”

The three, along with Sitherwood’s father and some other friends, had intended to go fishing that day, before storms altered their plans. Instead, the lawyers said, Fergerson, Sitherwood and Stapleton drank vodka, beer and hard lemonades, getting around Yakutat before returning to the residence they were staying at.

“Everybody, including Fergerson, was really, really drunk,” said public defender Eric Hedland, leading the defense, in a previous day of the trial. “That’s why everything is confusing.”

While Fergerson and Sitherwood chatted after midnight as Stapleton was in the other room, Sitherwood said, Fergerson joked several times about Sitherwood taking her clothes off.

“He told me I could walk around in my panties if I wanted to. I told him no. It was mentioned once or twice more, and it got kind of laughed off and he continued to tell me about how Stapleton treated my dad,” Sitherwood testified. “Everybody had been drinking. John Fergerson liked to joke around. I took it as a joke from him.”

They continued to drink until later, Sitherwood said. She said her memory of events is muddled by drink and by shock.

“I have a very hard time remembering what happened next,” Sitherwood said.

According to a Yakutat Borough Police Department report, Sitherwood called 911 twice, saying that Fergerson was on the ground and needed help. Stapleton attempted to perform CPR on Fergerson, Sitherwood said, ceasing his efforts only when emergency vehicles arrived.

“I don’t know where I’m coming from. I just see (Fergerson) laying on the ground and I was calling his name,” Sitherwood testified. “He was laying down on the ground. His head was facing toward the love seat he was sitting on.”

Sitherwood said she didn’t know what was wrong with Fergerson, only that he was on the ground and nonresponsive. Fergerson had blood coming from his mouth, but Sitherwood said she didn’t register other injuries to him.

“I didn’t focus on his body. I focused on him, trying to talk to him,” Sitherwood said. “I was trying to talk to him and call 911 at the same time. I was trying to say his name and wake him up.”

Police arrived and detained Stapleton and Sitherwood; Sitherwood was released about a day later. Stapleton was questioned by the Alaska Bureau of Investigation, was indicted several days later, and has remained in custody since.

Hedland also questioned Sitherwood about the circumstances of her dating relationship with Stapleton, with Hedland characterizing some of his behavior the Sitherwood mentioned over the course of their approximately two-year relationship as obsessive and jealous.

The trial will continue on the morning of Tuesday, Jan. 18.

• Contact reporter Michael S. Lockett at (757) 621-1197 or

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