FAIRBANKS — A Fairbanks jury found an Ester miner guilty Thursday of building an unauthorized mining road through state and borough land and vandalizing a rival miner’s equipment.
After a day and a half of testimony, the jury took about 1 1/2 hours to find Kevin Bergman guilty on both counts of third-degree felony criminal mischief. He will face a presumptive sentence of between zero and four years in prison at a sentencing hearing scheduled in April. Prosecutors had no objection to Bergman awaiting his sentencing out of custody.
The mining road, which extends about 4 miles from the top of Ester Dome, was bulldozed in summer 2011. The mining equipment vandalism was reported the same summer.
Assistant District Attorney Andrew Baldock said after the verdict that he applauded the jury’s work.
“Through the course of the trial, the defendant was shown to have caused $22,389 in damages to a rival miner’s equipment by sabotaging it,” he said in an emailed statement to the News-Miner. “It was further shown that he caused $18,500 in damages to land owned both by the state and borough by turning a trail into his own unauthorized mining road. The jury held the defendant accountable for what he did and rightly so.”
Bergman’s friend Christopher McGee looked shocked as the verdict was read, and Bergman’s ex-wife, Nicole Gagne, started to cry and said, “Oh, my God.” Walking out of the courtroom, the three complained about the way the case was handled. Bergman maintained his innocence and his account of the crime, specifically that miner Earl Voytilla built the mining road and that someone else — possibly ATVers — vandalized Voytilla’s equipment.
Bergman said Voytilla bribed the government to ignore vandalism to Bergman’s own equipment and to wrongfully convict him. Gagne said she suspects the conspiracy extends to President Barack Obama.
“I believe the jury found a guilty verdict based on the lie that (Lucas) Altepeter (an Alaska State Trooper who testified against Bergman) swore in court that my stuff was not damaged,” Bergman said.
On the way out of the courthouse, Bergman paused at a display of the Alaska Constitution on the third floor to point out the language in the declaration of rights section outlining the principle that all people have the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
Prosecutors called 11 witnesses during the trial. Reporters from the Ester Republic and the News-Miner were called to testify that they had written about the case based on interviews with Bergman. Bergman’s public defender, Jonathan Biderman, called one witness, Voytilla’s wife, to testify in Bergman’s defense. Bergman said after the trial that he wanted to testify himself but did not get the opportunity. Voytilla was out of state and was not called to testify.
(Editor’s note: News-Miner writer Sam Friedman was called Wednesday to testify that he interviewed defendant Kevin Bergman in a previous article about this case.)
Contact staff writer Sam Friedman at 459-7545. Follow him on Twitter: @FDMNcrime.