Dawn Holmstrom had, at one time, made grand jury statements incriminating John Kenneth Peel as the one responsible for killing the Investor crew. Statements that she now recanted. That reality weighed heavily on the prosecution. Their case was much simpler when they had her grand jury testimony. Lacking that testimony forced a different, more perilous, approach.
Dawn Holmstrom Hostile Witness
With Holmstrom out of the courtroom, Mary Anne Henry renewed her hostile witness argument. She noted that Dawn had delivered a letter from her boss, “complaining about how this is interfering with her work,” and more outrageously, “how her boss may be sued.” That wasn’t the only letter she’d delivered, according to Henry. She also brought a letter from her attorney, complaining “about the fact that she has to come up here and testify.”
“What has Dawn Holmstrom said in this courtroom that wasn’t responsive?” Weidner countered. “Sure, it may upset her to testify, and she may get upset when she’s badgered — and she was being badgered by Ms. Henry — but what has she said that’s not responsive? Sure, her testimony is going to be unfavorable to the prosecution because it’s the truth, and the truth is Dave McNeill did intimidate her and so did Mr. Blasco. But that doesn’t mean she’s hostile.”
Holmstrom Intimidation Complaint
What Judge Carpeneti could not do, however, was get past the Rosellini letter charging prosecutorial intimidation of key witnesses — or, in fact, the attorneys Holmstrom had hired to protect her interests at this and the previous trial.
“Any witness who believes they’ve been abused and who takes the steps that this witness has,” Carpeneti noted, “would seem to me to be hostile to that side.”
Weidner turned accusatory. He said Carpeneti was “destroying important rights in a criminal trial.” He charged that Carpeneti was “relying on a very tortured and self-serving interpretation of hostile.” That said, there was some uncertainty in his assertions. He wanted the court to be adjourned so he could research the meaning of “hostile.”
An increasingly frustrated Carpeneti said he wasn’t going to recess the trial. “I mean, I’ve recessed it enough,” he said. Indeed, he was now where Judge Schulz was at the first trial: frustrated with the antics of both attorneys.
Carpeneti ruled that the state could ask leading questions of Dawn Holmstrom. “I’m satisfied on the basis of her statements today as to her present state of mind and as to her beliefs, that the state has satisfied the requirements to ask leading questions, and I’ll allow them to do that.”
Thinking that this settled the matter, Carpeneti asked to bring back the jury. Phillip Weidner was having none of it. He could not let Dawn Holmstrom’s incriminating grand jury statements stand.
Excerpts from the unpublished original manuscript, “Sailor Take Warning,” by Leland E. Hale. That manuscript, started in 1992 and based on court records from the Alaska State Archive, served as the basis for “What Happened in Craig.”
Copyright Leland E. Hale (2021). All rights reserved.