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In-person jury trial concludes in Nenana, signifying return to normalcy

Published: Mar. 18, 2021 at 6:13 PM AKDT
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FAIRBANKS, Alaska (KTVF) - The first in-person jury trial held in Alaska’s Interior in nearly a year has concluded, signaling a return to normalcy in the criminal justice system. The trial was held in Nenana in front of Judge Michael MacDonald. Bill Satterberg was the defense attorney and Andrew Baldock was the prosecutor for the case. Satterberg said that the trial saw many precautions in place in hopes of limiting the spread of COVID-19.

Satterberg said that they were required to wear masks throughout the trial and that the jurors were seated in the public seating rather than the traditional jury pool. Social distancing was required, and the witness stand was wiped down after every witness was called. One significant change is extremely limited access to trials for the public and media due to space concerns from the court.

This in-person trial is the first to be held in the Interior since March of last year and one of the first held in the state. The Alaska Supreme Court issued guidelines to resume misdemeanor trials in April and Felony trials in June but allowed for a trials to be held on special request in March.

Satterberg said that he is hopeful that this is the first step in clearing out a backlog of cases that have built up over the last year.

“I think with time we are going to iron things out. I know there were a lot of things we had to iron out in this trial. It was held down in Nenana, I was actually rather surprised how well it went in Nenana considering the distance away and the size of the courtrooms. But I do know their will be major changes in the court system,” Satterberg said. He continued by saying that this trial was an experiment and even while doing the trial they had to make changes and adjustments to ensure the process went as smoothly as possible.

Fairbanks District Attorney Joe Dallaire said that his office has been working throughout the pandemic on cases but that they are ready to get back to doing trials. Dallaire also said that resuming trials will signal a move forward for parties to a case.

“For anybody that’s been anticipating a trial, whether it is a defendant or a victim I hope that this signifies or at least gives them some solace that things, as we talked about a moment ago, things are getting back to a normal state of affairs,” He said.

There are currently no additional jury trials planned for Fairbanks in the coming weeks. We will continue to keep track of changes at the court system as they work to reopen the courts.

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