Klawock murder case trial date set: Change of venue request after allegations of attempted lynching

PUBLISHED KDN: 2/24/18

By ZACHARY HALASCHAK
Daily News Staff Writer

In a hearing Friday morning, Superior Court Judge David George set a trial date of Aug. 8 in the case of Albert Macasaet III, 29, who stands accused of murdering his then girlfriend, Judylee Guthrie, 27, in July of 2016.

But, the trial might not happen on Prince of Wales Island where the alleged homicide occurred.

In Klawock, a city of about 800 people, Guthrie’s death has produced ripples throughout the community, which might change how the trial plays out.

Court documents obtained by the Daily News show that on Nov. 11, 2017, police responded to reports of an assault at the Klawock home of Macasaet’s brother, 58-year-old Albert Macasaet Jr.

Accompanying police statements allege that Angela Jean Frank, 27, and Delbert Vincent Bitonti, 37, assaulted Macasaet’s brother in retaliation for the death of Guthrie.

According to the account of Macasaet Jr., as detailed in court documents, on the evening of Nov. 11, Bitonti and Frank unlawfully entered Macasaet Jr.’s residence in an alleged attempt to lynch Macasaet Jr. for the crimes his brother is standing trial for.

“Mr. Macasaet Jr. stated that (Bitonti) threw him to the ground, with his head outside the front door of his residence and his body still inside the residence,” court documents allege. “While Mr. Macasaet lay in this position, the defendant stomped Mr. Macasaet, Jr., repeatedly in the head, then lifted him up and began to digitally choke him with his hands, in an attempt to kill Mr. Macasaet, Jr.”

In addition to internal bleeding from alleged stomping, the probable cause statement also alleges Macasaet, Jr. was choked — until the point of blacking out — by Bitonti while Frank “demanded that he confess to the murder of Judylee Guthrie.”

“Further (Frank) then began to kick and stomp Mr. Macasaet on his head while two other suspects in the residence yelled for the defendant to kill Mr. Macasaet,” court documents read.

Macasaet, Jr. told police that he thought he was going to die that night before the alleged assault stopped.

Although there is mention made of three “suspects” in the incident, the Daily News was only able to confirm that charges were brought against Bitonti and Frank.

Both were indicted on first-degree assault charges in addition to second-degree assault and first-degree burglary.

The whole incident was filmed. It is unclear who was recording the video.

In a Friday email, Macasaet III’s attorney, Jay Hochberg, said that he saw the video of the alleged incident.

“I watched the video of the assault,” Hochberg wrote. “It was one of the most brutal and sickening acts I’ve ever seen. The fact that their assault was directed at a completely innocent victim who had done nothing to anyone is particularly troubling.”

Hochberg is pushing for a change of venue because of the troubling circumstances.

“If people are willing to viciously assault an innocent man merely because he is related to my client, then how many other people would be willing to lie during jury selection about their bias?” Hochberg wrote. “… How many otherwise fair-minded people will feel forced to convict due to fear that they themselves would be victimized if they did not hand down the result that certain violent segments of the community so clearly want?”

Judge George said that, for now, the trial is still slated to be held on Prince of Wales Island, but that could change once jury selection begins.

“If we can’t find a jury down there, it would be my intention, … to pivot, and bring the case up here to Sitka and start with a jury on the 14th or 15th (of August),” George said Friday.

Macasaet III was originally indicted back in 2016 for allegedly strangling Judylee Guthrie. Her partially unclothed body was found about six miles from the Sunnyhaye trailhead.

Before being arrested for her murder, Macasaet III engaged in a 10-hour standoff with law enforcement, allegedly barricading himself in a residence with a gun and three children.

The troopers’ Southcentral Special Emergency Reaction Team was flown down and made a tactical intervention, ultimately arresting Macasaet.

The tight-knit nature of the tiny Klawock community and the November incident — which was not reported by any news organizations at the time — has made the case much more complex.

Klawock Police Department, which has just a few officers, has not responded to calls from the Daily News, not only in regard to the Macasaet III, Bitonti and Frank cases, but also another unrelated death investigation on the island — that of Francile Turpin, 37.

Turpin died in January after being found unconscious in Klawock. Foul play is suspected in her death.

In separate emails, Department of Public Safety Information Officer Megan Peters, confirmed to the Daily News that the Klawock Police Department did not contact Alaska State Troopers for assistance in either the Bitonti/Frank case or the Turpin case.

Macasaet III is being held on $100,000 bail and Bitonti is being held on $200,000 bail.

Macasaet will appear in court for another hearing on May 22. Bitonti and Frank’s next court appearances are scheduled for April 18.

PUBLISHED KDN: 2/24/18

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