Arrest made in Alaska killing of Vergennes native

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — Authorities on Friday arrested an Alaska man accused of shooting and killing a Vergennes native and another Coast Guard employee at a communications station on Kodiak Island, Alaska, last spring, the U.S. attorney said.
James Michael Wells, 61, of Kodiak is accused in a federal murder complaint of killing Petty Officer 1st Class James Hopkins, of Vergennes, and retired Chief Boatswain’s Mate Richard Belisle on April 12, 2012.
The arrested man worked with the victims, a Coast Guard spokeswoman confirmed.
“At the time of the incident, Jim Wells was actively employed as a civilian Coast Guard employee at the communications station,” Coast Guard spokeswoman Sara Francis said late Friday from Kodiak. She said she didn’t know his current employment status.
Francis referred all other questions about the case to the U.S. attorney’s office, which didn’t immediately return calls.
Hopkins, 41, was an electronics technician from Vergennes, Vt. Belisle, 51, was a former chief petty officer who continued service to the Coast Guard as a civilian employee.
Another Coast Guard member found the victims shortly after the two would have arrived for work at the station, which monitors radio traffic from ships and planes. Their bodies were found in the rigger building, where antennas are repaired.
The Kodiak Island Coast Guard base is home to cutters, helicopters and rescue swimmers that aid mariners in the Bering Sea and Pacific Ocean.
FBI agents immediately flew to Kodiak Island from Anchorage, about 250 miles away, to investigate the case as a double homicide.
Few details were released in the weeks after the deaths, although FBI spokesman Eric Gonzalez in Anchorage said shortly after the murders that there was “no credible evidence” that the community was in danger.
Wells’ arrest came after “an extensive investigation” led by the FBI and the Coast Guard Investigative Service, with support from the Alaska State Troopers, U.S. Attorney Karen Loeffler said in a statement.
Wells is expected to appear in court this week in Anchorage, Loeffler said.
Gonzalez declined to discuss specifics of the case Friday evening, saying the complaint and underlying affidavit are under court seal. He said he expected those documents to be unsealed next week.
The FBI spokesman declined to comment on a possible motive, what led investigators to focus on Wells or whether any other arrests were expected.
“I just can’t comment on anything about this case,” he said.
About a week after the killings, the FBI asked for help from the public in identifying two vehicles: a white 2002 Dodge Ram pickup and a blue 2001 Honda CRV. The next month, the FBI released a statement saying agents wanted to talk to anyone in Alaska who had sold or otherwise transferred a Smith and Wesson Model 29 or Model 629 or any .44-caliber model of a magnum Taurus.
Kodiak residents told the Associated Press in later interviews that a co-worker of Belisle and Hopkins owned a blue Honda CRV and a white Dodge pickup.
In their jobs with the Coast Guard, Belisle and Hopkins were involved with the installation, maintenance, repair and management of electronic equipment.
Approximately 60 enlisted personnel and civilians work at the base’s communications station. That’s a small fraction of the estimated 4,000 Guardsmen, families and civilian employees at the Kodiak Island base, the service’s largest in the nation.
Jim Wells’ wife said Saturday that her husband is innocent.
Nancy Wells told the Associated Press she expects her husband “will be fully exonerated.”
“I have full faith in my husband’s innocence,” she said. “I have no faith in the quality of the investigation.”
Amy Belisle told the Kodiak Daily Mirror Friday she knew an arrest would come eventually in her father’s death.
She said her mother, Nicola Belisle, was overjoyed when they learned of the arrest. “My sisters are not in the state, but they’re also super excited because it’s a little bit more closure, but it’s also sad,” she told the Daily Mirror.
The Kodiak Island Coast Guard base is home to cutters, helicopters and rescue swimmers that aid mariners in the Bering Sea and Pacific Ocean.
Hopkins was born April 17, 1970, in Middlebury, the son of William and Simone (Litch) Hopkins. He graduated from Vergennes Union High School in 1988 and attended Johnson State College for two years. He joined the Navy in 1990 and later transferred to the Coast Guard in 2002.
Relatives say he was dedicated to his family and country and was an avid outdoorsman.
His military decorations include the Coast Guard Achievement Medal (two awards), Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal (two awards), National Defense Service Medal (two awards), Coast Guard Good Conduct Medal (two awards), Commandant’s Letter of Commendation (three awards), Navy Letter of Commendation (two awards) and 2011 Coast Guard Communications Station Kodiak Sailor of the Year, along with other unit and campaign awards.
He is survived by his wife, Deborah (Pecoraro) Hopkins; son Patrick Hopkins; daughter Angela Birchfield; grandson Noah Birchfield; father William Hopkins; brother Scott Hopkins; nephew Ryan Hopkins; and several aunts, uncles and cousins.

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