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Justice News

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
District of Alaska

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

James Michael Wells Convicted for Murdering Coast Guard Employees

Anchorage, Alaska -- U.S. Attorney Bryan Schroder announced that today, after deliberating for 8 hours, a jury of 6 women and 6 men found James Michael Wells guilty of the April 12, 2012, murders of U.S. Coast Guard Electrician’s Mate First Class James Hopkins (“Hopkins”) and retired Chief Boatswain’s Mate Richard Belisle (“Belisle”).

Wells, now 68, was arrested on Feb. 15, 2013, for the 2012 murders of Hopkins and Belisle, federal employees and Wells’ co-workers at the United States Coast Guard (“USCG”) antenna maintenance facility, located at the USCG Communication Station (“COMMSTA”) on Kodiak Island, Alaska. Wells was convicted in 2014 and the case was reversed on appeal by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in December 2017.

Evidence at trial established that on April 12, 2012, between 7:09 and 7:14 a.m., Hopkins and Belisle were shot and killed with a .44 revolver, which was never found, while working at their duty stations in the Rigger Shop at COMMSTA.  First responders noted no evidence of a break-in or robbery and both men appeared to be victims of a targeted killing. Wells was due to arrive at the Rigger Shop the same time respectively as Hopkins and Belisle, but instead left two phone messages for Hopkins and Belisle, noted to be after the victims’ time of death, stating Wells was running late due to a flat tire. Wells ended up arriving to the Rigger Shop well over an hour after his normal start time, immediately claiming to have had a flat tire.

USCG security videos captured Wells passing the Main Gate at Base Kodiak at 6:48 a.m. in his white Dodge truck on his way toward the Kodiak Airport, and returning back toward his residence at 7:22 a.m. However, a small blue SUV, owned by Wells, was captured on USCG security videos passing the Rigger Shop front entrance. The evidence showed Wells drove his white Dodge pickup truck to the airport, where he swapped vehicles and drove Nancy Wells’ blue Honda CR-V to COMMSTA to commit the murders. There was a 34-minute period of time for which James Wells could not account and that unexplained discrepancy captured the attention of the interviewing agents. Additionally, a tire with a nail in it was seized and through extensive testing, the examiner concluded that the nail had been manually inserted into the tire, undermining the foundation of Wells’ alibi that he had picked up a nail while driving to work on the morning of the murders.

At trial, Wells testified that he had a low tire, stopped and went to the bathroom at Servant Air and then went home. He further testified that he removed the nail and replaced it with a larger nail which was the one discovered by investigators.

On October 8, 2019, Wells was convicted on all six counts of the indictment:  two counts of murder in the first degree, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1111, one for each victim; two counts of murder of an officer or employee of the United States, a violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1114, one for each victim; and two counts of possession and use of a firearm in relation to a crime of violence, a violation of 18 U.S.C. § 924(c).

Sentencing will be scheduled by the court in the coming days.  The law provides for a mandatory sentence of life in prison.  Wells will remain in custody pending sentencing.

U.S. Attorney Bryan Schroder notes that the conviction comes after an extensive investigation led by the FBI, with support from the U.S. Coast Guard Investigative Service, and the Alaska State Troopers.

Deputy Criminal Chief Steven Skrocki prosecuted the case along with Assistant U.S. Attorney Christine Sherman, and Commander Kelly Stevens, U.S. Coast Guard, who was appointed as a Special Assistant U.S. Attorney.

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Updated October 8, 2019