Appeal denied for man convicted of killing 2 Coast Guard coworkers in Kodiak

A panel of federal judges last week reaffirmed a Kodiak man’s conviction for murdering two of his Coast Guard colleagues; it’s the latest legal decision after nearly a decade of back and forth in the courts. 

James Wells was sentenced to life in federal prison two years ago for the murders of Petty Officer First Class James Hopkins and retired Chief Rich Belisle back in 2012, who was a civilian at the time.

Hopkins and Belisle were Wells’ coworkers at Kodiak’s Coast Guard Communication Station. Wells was a civilian.

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Volunteers look for a murder weapon near Kodiak’s CommSta antenna field, April 12, 2012. James Wells would later be charged and convicted of the double homicide. (Jennifer Canfield/KMXT)

Wells was first convicted of the double homicide in 2014, but the case was reversed by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals three years later, which ordered a new trial with a different judge. A federal jury again convicted Wells of six criminal counts, which included two counts of first degree murder the crimes in 2019.

But Wells appealed the conviction, saying his Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination were violated because investigators threatened his job during interrogations. 

Last week, a panel of three federal judges rejected that argument and reaffirmed Wells’ convictions. In his opinion for the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, Judge Daniel A. Bress wrote that throughout several interviews with investigators, Wells “never expressed concern that his employment would be affected if he did not participate, even when he and the investigators discussed his long service with the Coast Guard,” and that he also “sometimes volunteered information that went beyond the scope of the questions asked.”

The judges, however, vacated a court order as part of Wells’ sentencing to pay $1,921,640 in restitution. The judges ruled the court had failed to properly calculate Wells’ earnings, and that part of sentencing would be sent back to the courts to reconsider.

Wells’ attorney and the families of the victims could not be reached for comment.

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