Facebook Twitter

Was slain Coast Guard officer in love triangle?

SHARE Was slain Coast Guard officer in love triangle?

ANCHORAGE, Alaska — The man accused of killing the new Coast Guard commander on St. Paul Island believed his estranged wife was romantically involved with the officer, authorities said.

Carl W. Merculief Jr., 25, was charged with first-degree murder in the death Tuesday of Chief Warrant Officer Timothy A. Harris. Harris, 33, was found dead in front of the Coast Guard's Long Range Navigation Station.

Merculief "believed his wife was having an affair with Harris, and he was angry about that," according to charging documents released Wednesday.

Petty Officer Roger Wetherell, a Coast Guard spokesman in Juneau, said the Coast Guard had no indications Harris, assigned to duty on the island just three weeks earlier, was involved in any affair.

"We're just going to let the investigators do their job and let the facts speak for themselves," Wetherell said.

Harris was assigned July 3 as commanding officer of the station on the remote island, in the Bering Sea about 775 miles southwest of Anchorage. He was transferred from New Orleans, where he leaves a wife and two young children.

The station is an isolated complex of buildings on the tundra island about three miles out of the town of St. Paul.

After the shooting, troopers said, Merculief returned to his wife's home in St. Paul, punched her and threatened to kill her if she reported the murder to authorities.

He also threatened to kill a friend who had driven him to the Coast Guard station and heard the shots, authorities said. Merculief had allegedly awakened the friend and asked him to go for a drive.

Despite the threats, the friend notified St. Paul police after the shooting. Police in turn called the Coast Guard.

Merculief was arrested at the wife's house and was being held on $100,000 bail.

While the state filed the murder charges, federal authorities may assert jurisdiction because the shooting happened on federal property. The killing is the first known homicide on Coast Guard property, according to Wetherell.

The slaying shocked residents of St. Paul, a mostly Aleut Native community of nearly 700.

"We all know each other, and we're all related if we track it far enough," City Clerk Phyllis Swetzof said. "Because everyone is your friend or relative, it takes you totally by surprise when someone crosses the line. Here, it's a very big line."

The navigation station on St. Paul Island is staffed by 15 guardsmen. They serve one-year tours without their families because the station does not have housing for relatives, Wetherell said.