The same man who pleaded guilty in the shooting death of Lorraine Kay Morin in 2008 is currently on trial in Alaska for a similar crime that occurred there in 1996.
Morin, who left behind six children, the youngest in elementary school, was shot in the face at her home on Highway 206 south of Columbia Falls.
Her boyfriend at the time, Robert Kowalski, fled to his Creston home on Highway 35, where he was arrested after a 31-hour standoff with law enforcement.
Flathead County prosecutors maintained that Kowalski and Morin had been arguing while drinking and that the shooting was not accidental. Kowalski pleaded guilty to mitigated deliberate homicide by way of an Alford plea and was sentenced to 40 years in prison in April 2009.
The Flathead case drew notice in Alaska, and in 2011 a grand jury in Juneau indicted Kowalski in the shooting death of Sandra Perry. The 38-year-old mother of three was killed while she and Kowalski were vacationing at the Glacier Bear Lodge in Yakutat, Alaska.
Kowalski, who was 34 at the time and is 53 now, maintained that the shotgun shooting was an accident. Kowalski’s similar claim here in 2008 prompted Alaska prosecutors to re-open the Perry case, which initially was determined to be accidental.
Kowalski told Alaska investigators at the time that he grabbed a shotgun after hearing what he thought was a bear outside their room at the resort. He said he tripped on a bed, fell on Perry and the gun went off as he stood up. Perry was hit in the face with a slug from the 12-gauge shotgun.
In each case, Kowalski shot a girlfriend in the mouth from close range and stayed with the body for several hours before calling authorities — and both shootings apparently were preceded by domestic disturbances.
Kowalski was extradited to Alaska in March 2013 and sat in the Lemon Creek Correctional Center in Juneau as the trial was delayed until March 20 this year. He faces one count of first-degree murder and one count of second-degree murder and could be sentenced to life in prison if convicted.
Early on, Juneau Superior Court Judge Louis Menendez made several evidentiary rulings that seemed to favor the prosecution. First, he ruled that a memo written four months after the Yakutat incident by then-Juneau District Attorney Richard Svobodny, which explained why he would not charge Kowalski for Perry’s shooting death, was inadmissible.
Perry’s family was provided with a copy of the memo when they demanded to know why Kowalski wasn’t being charged. They held on to the memo and provided a copy to the Anchorage-based Office of Special Prosecutions and Appeals when the case was reopened in 2009.
According to the memo, Kowalski was visibly distraught and even vomiting during the three interviews by Alaska State Troopers following the shooting. The memo states that while Kowalski gave differing information each time he was interviewed, the overall accounts didn’t differ. Kowalski also had said he contemplated suicide immediately after the shooting.
The memo also mentioned a person staying in the room next to Kowalski’s who said he heard Perry cuss at Kowalski about five times before the gun went off. But investigators found no evidence of a physical altercation in Kowalski’s room, and Kowalski told troopers they were having a discussion, not an argument.
“Causation is a major problem in this case,” the memo concluded.
Arguing before the court on March 17, lead prosecutor James Fayette said it’s unlikely Svobodny still held the opinion expressed in the memo. Svobodny is now head of Alaska’s Department of Law, Criminal Division, and has oversight over the present case.
Judge Menendez also ruled that Kowalski’s conviction for murder in Montana will be allowed into evidence, as well as evidence of past domestic violence acts by Kowalski.
Fayette cited 11 prior complaints of domestic violence by Kowalski, among them threatening his girlfriend and her mother with a gun in King County, Wash. in 1997; threatening his girlfriend with a gun in Kalispell in 2001; assaulting a person and destroying property in Bigfork in 2003; and threatening to cut off his girlfriend’s son’s head in Bigfork in 2003.
One of Kowalski’s defense attorneys, Tim Ayer, told the court that the prosecution has no new evidence that Kowalski murdered Perry other than that Kowalski was convicted of killing Morin in Montana — and that was by Alford plea, in which Kowalski maintained his innocence but acknowledged that overwhelming evidence existed for a conviction.
Perry’s son, who was 16 at the time of her death in Yakutat, testified on the opening day of Kowalski’s trial in Juneau. A waitress testified about how many drinks she served Kowalski and Perry, as did the man who was in the next-door room at the lodge. The man is now 75.
Grisly photos of Perry’s body were shown in court on the third day of the trial. Defense attorney Eric Hedland called the images “disgusting to look at.” A deputy medical examiner said Perry was covered with gunshot residue, indicating she was shot from six inches to three feet away.
On the fourth day of the trial, Hedland announced that Alaska State Troopers had destroyed some evidence from the case. He asked Judge Menendez to exclude that evidence since the defense would not be able to examine it themselves, but the judge denied the motion for the time being.
Included in the evidence destroyed for case management and storage reasons were audio recordings of interviews with Kowalski, videotapes of the crime scene, clothing and bed linen, Zoloft and a marijuana pipe.