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Ex-Coast Guard employee gets life for killing two others on Alaska base

By Steve Quinn

JUNEAU Alaska (Reuters) - A former U.S. Coast Guard employee convicted of shooting two co-workers to death at a remote Kodiak Island communications station two years ago was sentenced to four consecutive life terms in prison on Tuesday, federal prosecutors said.

A federal court jury in Anchorage found James Michael Wells, 63, guilty in late April of two counts of first-degree murder, two counts of murdering a U.S. employee and two counts of a firearms offense, capping a 19-day trial.

The victims, Coast Guard electrician's Mate First-Class James Hopkins, 42, and retired Chief Boatswain's Mate Richard Belisle, 51, were found slain on April 12, 2012, at the sprawling Coast Guard installation on Kodiak Island, about 250 miles (400 km) southwest of Anchorage.

All three men served as communications experts on the base, one of the largest in the Coast Guard system. Prosecutors contended that Wells, a Coast Guard retiree employed as a civilian, had grown resentful and envious of his two younger colleagues, whom he saw as gaining in status at his expense.

Although court documents show he was a suspect early on in the case, Wells was not arrested until 10 months after the slayings, following an extensive investigation by the FBI, Coast Guard and Alaska state troopers.

Wells professed his innocence in court before he was sentenced, only to face a stern rebuke from U.S. District Judge Ralph Beistline, according to media reports on the proceeding and an account furnished by the U.S. Justice Department.

“There’s one thing I know - James Wells is a cold-blooded murderer,” the Justice Department news release quoted the judge as telling the defendant. “Any objective person would reach the same conclusion.”

Bryan Schroder, the assistant U.S. attorney and retired Coast Guard officer who tried the case, said he was satisfied with the sentencing.

“You can’t bring these men back, but we’ve gotten the families as much justice as the system will allow,” he said.

The slayings were the first on U.S. Coast Guard property since 2001, when the commander of an outpost on Alaska's remote St. Paul Island was shot and killed by a local man, who was later convicted of first-degree murder.

(Editing by Steve Gorman and Lisa Shumaker)

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