FAIRBANKS—A Fairbanks jury on Monday convicted Nathanial Kangas of two counts of first-degree murder in the shooting deaths of Alaska State Trooper Sgt. Scott Johnson and trooper Gabe Rich in the village of Tanana two years ago.
Kangas, 22, of Tanana, killed the troopers May 1, 2014, while they were attempting to arrest his father for threatening Village Public Safety Officer Mark Haglin the previous night.
The jury, which deliberated for about three hours Friday before returning at 8:30 a.m. Monday, notified court officials at about 11 a.m. that it had reached a verdict. As news spread, the courtroom filled to overflowing with family and friends of the fallen troopers.
The mood was somber and expectant as Kangas entered the courtroom and took his seat at the defense table, a massed crowd of people — many of them troopers or other law enforcement — at his back.
The verdict was read to a perfectly silent courtroom, and no cries of relief or triumph followed.
Kangas was charged with two counts of first-degree murder, two counts of second-degree murder, one count of third-degree assault and three counts of tampering with physical evidence.
The jury convicted Kangas on both first-degree murder charges and also returned a special verdict for each, finding that Johnson and Rich were uniformed, clearly identifiable peace officers engaged in performing their duties at the time they were killed. The mandatory sentence for each finding is 99 years without the possibility of parole.
Kangas was found guilty of the third-degree assault charge for pointing his rifle at Haglin after the troopers had been shot, causing Haglin to fear for his life. He was acquitted of two of the evidence tampering charges involving the troopers weapons but convicted of the third evidence tampering charge for disposing marijuana plants after the shooting.
The tampering was discovered after trooper investigators listened to audio recorded by both troopers’ personal recorders, which continued to function for hours after their deaths. The jury was played audio of the shooting and its aftermath, in which Kangas and his father, Arvin, were heard leaving the house after the killing and returning soon after, followed by the sound of holsters being unsnapped and gun slides being racked.
Father and son were also heard discussing what to do with the marijuana plants Nathanial kept in his closet.
Arvin Kangas was found guilty by a Nenana jury in April of 2015 of three counts of evidence tampering for manipulating the troopers’ guns and disposing of the marijuana plants. He is serving an eight-year prison term.
Throughout his trial Nathanial sat quietly with his head bowed. He cried when audio of the shooting and its aftermath was played in the courtroom, and he declined the chance to testify in his own defense.
The trial, which started May 2, was initially expected to last until the end of the month but wrapped up Friday after five days of jury selection and three days of sometimes harrowing testimony and crime scene evidence.
Defense attorney Greg Parvin, of Wasilla, didn’t call any witnesses but presented his case during closing arguments. Parvin didn’t dispute the fact his client killed the two troopers but told the jurors they should return a verdict of manslaughter, not murder, because the killings were the result of impulse, not intent.
Parvin said Nathanial had been “saturated” in “vitriol” and “hate” by his father, who was a member of an anti-government movement called Athabascan Nation. Arvin raised Nathanial to despise and fear law enforcement, Parvin said, and Nathanial shot the troopers because he thought they were there to kill his father.
District Attorney Greggory Olson told the jury Nathanial acted intentionally, noting that Arvin did not get shot even though he was underneath the troopers as they struggled with him on the floor.
Superior Court Judge Paul Lyle instructed the jury at the beginning of the trial that “defense of others” was not a legal justification for Nathanial's actions that day.
When asked for comment after the trial, Olson said only that he thought "the jury did a good job."
Parvin said he was disappointed with the verdict and said he didn't call any witnesses because the state had already called them.
"All admissible relevant evidence that went into my client's state of mind was put into the state's case. There's nothing else that we would have brought in," Parvin said.
A hearing will be held Friday at 8:30 a.m. to decide a date for Kangas' sentencing.
Contact staff writer Dorothy Chomicz at 459-7582. Follow her on Twitter: @FDNMCrime.