FAIRBANKS, Alaska — A rural Alaska man who shot two state troopers to death was convicted Monday of two counts of first-degree murder.
A Fairbanks jury deliberated six hours before convicting Nathanial Kangas, 22, in the deaths of Sgt. Scott Johnson and Trooper Gabe Rich in May 2014, the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reported.
The jury also returned special verdicts on each murder charge, saying the officers were both in uniform and were clearly identifiable as peace officers performing their duties when murdered. The sentence for each murder count is a mandatory 99-year prison term without the possibility of parole. Alaska does not have the death penalty.
A hearing was scheduled Friday to set a sentencing date.
The officers were shot at Kangas’ home in the village of Tanana, about 130 miles west of Fairbanks, as they attempted to arrest Kangas’ father.
Defense attorney Greg Parvin argued that Kangas was not guilty of premeditated murder. He said the younger man was trying to protect his father.
Rich and Johnson, both of whom had appeared on a cable TV reality show about the Alaska State Troopers, were attempting to arrest Kangas’ father, Arvin Kangas, for threatening Village Public Safety Officer Mark Haglin the night before.
Arvin Kangas was earlier convicted of evidence tampering for manipulating the troopers’ bodies and guns after they died to make it appear as if the officers had drawn their weapons during the arrest attempt. He was sentenced to eight years in prison.
Personal audio recorders worn by both troopers continued to record for hours after their deaths. Key portions of those recordings were played to the jury, including when Arvin and Nathaniel Kansas left the house after the shootings but returned shortly after, and then the recordings picked up sounds of holsters being unsnapped and gun slides being racked.
The prosecution’s case was presented over three days last week, but defense attorney Greg Parvin didn’t call a single witness.
He instead presented his case during closing arguments. He didn’t deny that Nathanial Kangas killed the two troopers, but he said the jury should return a verdict of manslaughter because he didn’t intend to kill them.
District Attorney Greggory Olson countered that Nathanial Kangas did act intentionally, and he noted the elder Kangas wasn’t shot even though he was underneath the troopers as they struggled on the floor.
Parvin also said his client had been saturated in vitriol and hate by his father, a member of the anti-government “Athabascan Nation” movement. Parvin said his client was brought up to despise law enforcement and shot the troopers because he believed they were there to kill his father.
Superior Court Judge Paul Lyle told the jury that “defense of others” was not a legal justification.
No roads lead to Tanana, and travel there is mainly by aircraft. Because of the location of the village, about two miles west of the junction of the Tanana and Yukon rivers, the community was a trading post for Koyukon and Tanana Athabascans long before European contact, according to a state website. Residents continue to live a traditional Athabascan lifestyle, including hunting and fishing for their food.