Judge rejects witness in Kodiak Coast Guard trial

ANCHORAGE, Alaska — An inmate known as “Eyeball” will not be taking the stand for the defense in a Kodiak Coast Guard double homicide case — at least for now — after a judge ruled Friday there’s no proven connection between him and the case.

Jason Barnum, 38, got his nickname from a tattoo that darkened the white of his right eye. His face is also heavily tattooed, including one that traces some of the outlines of his skull.

Prosecutors successfully objected to calling Barnum in the murder trial of James Wells. U.S. Attorney Karen Loeffler said there was no reason for him to appear “other than to frighten the jury.”

Wells, 62, is charged with two counts of first-degree murder in the death of two co-workers in a workshop of the Kodiak Island Communication Station.

FBI agents questioned Barnum about the Kodiak deaths three months after he was arrested in a separate case in September 2012. They showed him pictures of people and told him he was not a suspect.

“I told them I didn’t want to talk to them,” Barnum said.

Barnum was arrested and charged with shooting at an Anchorage police officer interviewing people about burglaries. That case is pending.

U.S. District Judge Ralph Beistline said Friday he hadn’t seen a sufficient connection to allow Barnum to be called as a defense witness.

Petty Officer 1st Class James Hopkins, 41, and civilian electronics technician Richard Belisle, 51, were found shot to death the morning of April 12, 2012, shortly after they showed up for work at the Rigger Shop, where antennas are built and repaired.

Wells was due to work at the same time as the murdered men. He told investigators he was delayed by a flat tire.

Defense attorneys contend investigators zeroed in on Wells and ignored other possible suspects. They called Hopkins’ wife to the stand Thursday and questioned her about family finances and extramarital affairs. They plan to call associates of Belisle’s daughter, Hannah, who acknowledged in testimony that she used drugs and associated with people who provided them in 2012.

With the jury out of the courtroom and with his attorney sitting nearby, Barnum, in a jail uniform and handcuffs, acknowledged being in Kodiak the month of the homicides. He stayed with friends, he said, including the father of an acquaintance of Hannah Belisle. Barnum left the island a few days after Hopkins and Belisle were killed, he said.

Under questioning by Loeffler, Barnum said he didn’t recognize the names of Belisle and Hopkins. She asked if he was familiar with the Rigger Shop.

“The wigger shop?” he asked.

Asked if he had used drugs the day of the homicides, Barnum declined to answer. Loeffler then asked if he killed Richard Belisle and James Hopkins.

“I don’t want to answer that,” he said.

Beistline told federal public defender Rich Curtner that Barnum did not have a sufficient connection to the Kodiak case to be called, but that connection might be established through additional testimony.

Curtner then called two Coast Guard commanders, Jonathan Musman and Greg Tlapa, who testified they worked with Wells and found him to be a highly skilled and safety conscious technician who enjoyed his work and had not demonstrated anger or violence.

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