Jealousy and workplace conflict
could have been the motive behind the murder of two men at Coast Guard Base
Kodiak last April. And the accused killer, James Michael “Jim” Wells, could potentially face the death penalty. Tuesday marked the first of what will
likely be many court appearances for Wells, who was arrested Friday for the
deaths of Coast Guard Electrician’s Mate First Class James Hopkins and retired
Chief Boatswain’s Mate Richard Belisle. The bodies of both men were found by
coworkers, shot to death, at one of the buildings at the ComSta on
April 12th. Belisle was working for the Coast Guard as a civilian
contractor at the time, as was the accused, Jim Wells.
61-year-old Wells pleaded not guilty during his arraignment in U.S. District
Court in Anchorage
on Tuesday. Following the arraignment, U.S. Attorney Karen Loeffler
made a statement to the press and said Wells’ indictment alleges six counts.
-- (Wells Update 1 :32 “The
first four counts are all premeditated murder of these two individuals. The
reason that there are four counts is simply that the first two counts charge
murder in the first degree on, basically on federal property. The next two
charges are similar premeditated murder of an employee in the course of their
job, of their duties. So there are just two different ways to charge this, one
is on federal property and one is of an officer and employee of the United States .”)
said counts five and six charge possession and use of a firearm in relation to
a crime of violence.
-- (Wells Update 2 :21 “The murders carry, at this time, a
maximum penalty of life as presently charged. I will let you know that all of
these charges are death penalty eligible offenses. At this point, the maximum
is charged is life in prison.”)
said there’s been no decision on whether the death penalty will be sought. She
said it is a long process that requires review back in Washington D.C.
sum of the facts as gathered are in the criminal complaint filed by FBI agent
Elizabeth Oberlander, which was unsealed during Wells’ arraignment on Tuesday.
Oberlander wrote that Wells’ pickup truck was identified
driving past the main gates of the Kodiak Coast Guard Base on surveillance
video at 6:48 a.m. the morning of the murders. The complaint indicates that
there is probable cause he drove his truck to the airport and picked up his
wife’s car, and drove that to the communications station. Officials say he
avoided surveillance cameras when he arrived at the station at 7:09 a.m.,
entered a building and shot Hopkins and Belisle multiple times. Following that,
the prosecution believes he left the area at 7:14 a.m., switched cars at the
airport once more, and drove past the Coast Guard base in his pickup truck at
Hopkins and Belisle were found by a coworker in the
rigger building, where antennas are repaired. The complaint reads that
.44-caliber jacketed soft point bullets
were recovered from the bodies. Similar ammunition was found at Wells’ home
shortly after the killings, but no murder weapon.
Following the murders, Wells provided an alibi, saying he
was late to work because of a flat tire. He even called and left that message
for both Hopkins and Belisle. But the prosecution contends that forensic
testing suggests a nail gun was used on his tire and it had not been driven
after the nail was put there, which Wells had claimed.
Court documents show disciplinary actions as a possible
motive. A new supervisor, who is identified as “Witness B” in the complaint,
began work in July 2010. Witness B said there were several disciplinary
instances that resulted in shouting matches between the witness and Wells,
often times loud enough to be heard by coworkers.
The complaint details a particular case, in September
2011, Wells was accused of filling his personal vehicle at a Coast Guard base
gas station using a work fuel card. Following that, Wells met with the
commanding officer and Witness B and was asked to sign a letter of caution.
Then, in November 2011, Wells was accused of removing trees from the
communications station for his personal firewood use.
The prosecution says it was around this time that Belisle
asked the supervisor if he could be disassociated from Wells. Another witness
reported that Hopkins and Wells’ relationship
also had tension, most likely because Hopkins
often had to correct Wells’ work. Complaints started coming in from other
employees at the station against Wells, saying work wasn’t being completed.
Following those, the supervisor, or Witness B, met with Wells and said he
needed to “be a part of the process or retire,” which led to a heated argument.
Wells’ run-ins with the supervisor, combined with
extended absences, ultimately led to him not being allowed to attend a national
conference. It is reported that Hopkins and Belisle were invited to that same
The complaint says one witness said Wells’ star was
fading while Belisle’s was rising, despite Wells wanting to be the “top dog.”
is scheduled to appear at a detention hearing on Monday.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.