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Alaska barista slaying: In courtroom, suspect makes a run for it

May 24, 2012|By Kim Murphy
  • Suspect Israel Keyes
Suspect Israel Keyes (Anchorage Police Department )

SEATTLE -- A courtroom in Anchorage erupted in pandemonium when a suspect charged in the fatal kidnapping of popular barista Samantha Koenig broke out of his restraints and made a dash for freedom before being tasered and wrestled to the ground.

Israel Keyes, a 34-year-old construction worker, was at a hearing in federal court to schedule his trial when he jumped a rail leading to the spectator gallery, according to local news reports. A dramatic audio recording posted by television station KTUU and other TV outlets captured the brief melee before U.S. marshals brought Keyes under control.

Before all the excitement, four guards stood on either side of Keyes during Thursday's hearing. He glanced repeatedly around the courtroom, then made a break for it, the Alaska Dispatch reported. Spectators reportedly shouted and moved to the side, with one yelling, “Kill him!”

Keyes remained largely wordless and, after being zapped by the stun gun, motionless.

The case has had a series of strange and sad twists since Koenig, 18, disappeared about the time she would have been closing up at the Coffee Shack on the evening of Feb. 1. Federal prosecutors think Keyes forced her into his pickup, obtained from her the PIN number of an ATM card he took from her car near her home, then killed her the following morning before boarding a plane to Texas.

Her body was found in a frozen lake northeast of Anchorage on April 2.

A federal grand jury indictment alleges that Keyes sent several text messages from Koenig’s phone in an attempt to conceal her abduction and death and also used it, apparently successfully, to demand ransom money, which he subsequently withdrew in Texas, New Mexico and Arizona with the stolen ATM card.

Keyes was arrested March 15 in Lufkin, Texas. He faces up to life in prison, or death, if convicted on all three charges, which include kidnapping resulting in death, receipt and possession of ransom money, and fraud.

But the story doesn’t end there. Koenig’s father was arrested May 15 after spending a night out with the father of another recent Anchorage murder victim. The body of Clinton Reeves, an airman stationed at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, was found May 8 after he had been missing for more than two weeks.

According to the Anchorage Daily News, James Koenig, 42, was leaving the Great Alaska Bush Company, an Anchorage strip club, with Reeves’ father, Terry Reeves, when a doorman advised him he’d had too much to drink and offered to get him a taxi.

Koenig told the doorman, “Get back from my door or meet my 1911,” as he reached for a Colt M1911 pistol he kept in the console of his truck, Anchorage police told the Daily News.

Police met him at his home and took him into custody, apparently not without a fight. He was charged with drunken driving, misconduct involving a weapon and assault.

James Koenig was in the courtroom Wednesday during Keyes’ attempted escape, the Alaska Dispatch reported, as was the victim's mother, Darlene Christiansen. But not for long. After Keyes was restrained, a calm voice, apparently one of the U.S. marshals, is heard on the audio politely asking the judge to clear the courtroom.

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kim.murphy@latimes.com

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