The homicide trial of Reuben Yerkes has been postponed.
Attorneys in the case have been unable to resolve a dispute over access to emails exchanged by the 40-year old former paralegal and his alleged victim, 28-year old Ali Clayton, during a period when they both worked in Sitka’s City Hall.
The trial is now scheduled for September, 2018.
It’s a dispute that has moved beyond the abilities of the attorneys to resolve informally, and Superior Court Judge David George asked Yerkes’s attorney, public defender Nathan Lockwood, to file a formal motion to compel the state to give up the email data contained in the computers of the two former city employees.
But motions and responses take time — 30 days at least — and Yerkes’s trial was supposed to begin on January 3.
Judge George turned to assistant district attorney Amanda Browning and asked this question.
George – What is your estimate of when the case — realistically — could go to trial?
Browning – Realistically, your Honor, I think August.
That was Browning recommending August, which brought some in the gallery to tears. Ali Clayton’s parents, Steve and Paula, have attended every hearing since Yerkes was charged with murder in the shooting death of their daughter last May. Most in the audience are friends there to support them.
Their growing frustration over the delay was not lost on the judge.
“One of the things I have to consider is the impact on victims and the families, and the Claytons have been here pretty much for every one of these things. I’ve given them a heads up that this was likely going to be changed but I don’t want to set this again.”
George polled the defense to find out if there might be any further delays.
George – Mr. Lockwood, do you have a sense of what other motions might be coming down the pike?
Lockwood – I’m cautious about committing myself since at this point we don’t know what evidence will be coming in. But I do know at the very least there’s going to be a motion to change venue.
A change of venue motion has been likely since the beginning of the case, when Sitkans attended hearings in droves, and were searched by police before being allowed in the courtroom.
The numbers have thinned now, but interest in the case has not. Judge George warned that the court would be unlikely to consider a motion for a change of venue until it had at least tried to seat a jury in Sitka.
George set the new trial date for September 4, 2018, long after his anticipated retirement date in April.
“I hate to leave something of this magnitude to someone who hasn’t been there from the beginning,” he said.
George’s replacement will be appointed to the bench by the governor next spring.