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Coast Guardsmen testify about shooting response

Apr. 3, 2014 - 08:08AM   |  
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ANCHORAGE, ALASKA — A Coast Guardsman who found the bodies of two murdered co-workers thought at first they were pranking him.

Petty Officer Cody Beaufort said Wednesday he was preparing for a transfer on April 12, 2012, and could not believe what he saw when he reported for work at about 7:30 a.m. at the Coast Guard’s Kodiak Island Communication Station.

Petty Officer 1st Class James Hopkins, 41, was lying in a pool of blood in the break room. Civilian technician Richard Belisle, 51, was face-down in the building’s office. An office chair was on top of him. Beaufort called out first to Hopkins, then Belisle.

“I tried talking to Rich — also no response,” Beaufort said.

Beaufort testified in the federal trial of James Wells, who’s charged with two counts of first-degree murder, two counts of murder of an officer or employee of the United States, and possession of a firearm in a crime of violence in the deaths of Hopkins and Belisle.

Prosecutors say Belisle at 7 a.m. opened the station Rigger Shop, a satellite building about 100 yards downhill from the main office. Hopkins’ truck pulled in eight minutes later.

Their theory of the crime is that Wells, who had a disagreement with both co-workers, followed them to the shop, entered through a door not covered by a security camera, shot them, and exited within five minutes. Wells told investigators he was delayed getting to work because he had to change a flat tire, an alibi prosecutors say is not plausible.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Bryan Schroder and Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Kathleen Duignan on Wednesday led jurors through testimony of a dozen witnesses involved in the aftermath of the shooting.

Beaufort’s first call was to Petty Officer Kevin O’Connor, an operations specialist at the main communications station building. O’Connor too suspected a prank, then asked if Beaufort had administered CPR.

“I think they’re past CPR,” Beaufort said. “There’s a lot of blood.”

O’Connor called 911, the Coast Guard Police Department and one of his superiors. O’Connor’s boss, watch officer Michael Haselden, ran down the hill and tried to rouse Belisle, then Hopkins.

“I shook him to see if I could get a response,” Haselden said. “No response.”

Petty Officer Kelly Kolodzik was the first police officer on the scene. She thought the victims might be part of a drill until she saw a deep wound on Hopkins’ arm.

“That laceration couldn’t be faked even by the best of our medical staff,” she said. She attempted to take their pulse and found none.

Emergency medical technicians arrived and confirmed the deaths while she and another police officer, Petty Officer Pedro Elizondo, drew their weapons and made sure the shooter was no longer in the building.

Defense attorney Peter Offenbecher closely questioned Kolodzik about the behavior of another worker at the Rigger Shop, supervisor Scott Reckner. He arrived distraught and panicked, Kolodzik said. Reckner first asked who was inside and then suggested that Wells was responsible because of his performance issues and conflicts with co-workers, Kolodzik said.

Federal defender Rich Curtner in his opening statement said Reckner’s identification of Wells as a suspect led investigators to disregard other possible suspects in the case.

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