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Court dismisses perjury charge against retired Homer judge

David Haeg, center, and others gather outside Anchorage's Nesbett Courthouse on the morning of January 8, 2024.
Jeremy Hsieh
David Haeg, center, and others gather outside Anchorage's Nesbett Courthouse on the morning of January 8, 2024 during oral arguments in Margaret Murphy's case.

An Anchorage judge has dismissed a perjury charge against a former Homer judge who was indicted by a grand jury last spring. As the judge lays out in his 32-page dismissal, the indictment was fraught with procedural errors and tainted evidence.

In April, a Kenai grand jury charged retired Judge Margaret Murphy with one felony count of perjury. It was related to the case of David Haeg, who was tried and convicted in 2005 for unlawful hunting charges. Murphy presided over Haeg’s case, and in the decades since, he’s become a vocal advocate against judicial corruption, which he says was a factor in his case.

Murphy’s attorneys filed a motion to dismiss her case in October, and presented oral arguments in January. The case was assigned to Anchorage Superior Court Judge Thomas Matthews after all Kenai Superior Court judges recused themselves.

In the dismissal, Matthews describes the strangeness of the case, which was handled by independent prosecutor Clint Campion rather than the district attorney. Matthews concurred with all four of Murphy’s arguments for a dismissal, as requested by her attorneys.

First, he says the grand jury lacked a necessary quorum when it indicted Murphy. He writes that while 12 jurors were there when evidence was presented, only 11 were present for the vote, a clear violation of the state constitution.

Campion admitted that there was not a quorum during oral arguments in January.

Next, Matthews says, the indictment lacked required detail. He writes that the one-sentence charge did not describe how exactly Murphy had supposedly perjured herself, which is required of an indictment. And he says the charge of perjury requires certain standards that this indictment didn’t have.

“It does not alert her to what testimony is allegedly false, nor does it even address the element of intent,” Matthews writes. “Perjury requires more than simply a false statement. The statement must be made knowingly false.”

He also says Campion provided inaccurate instructions to the grand jury about the standard to indict, telling them they were not required to find evidence that would likely lead to a conviction in order to charge Murphy.

“If anything, the above instructions would be hopelessly confusing, and legally incorrect, for a grand jury actually considering whether to issue an indictment,” Matthews writes.

Finally, the judge writes, the grand jury received tainted evidence from Haeg himself, who testified to the jury and also approached a grand juror individually to give her a packet of information, “alleging wide ranging corruption and criminal conduct by numerous people involved in [his] various cases.”

Matthews says Haeg brought binders full of what he characterized as hearsay to his four-hour testimony before the grand jury.

“Mr. Haeg’s three binders are replete with inadmissible hearsay, and speculation should not be allowed at trial,” he writes.

Campion, the independent prosecutor, said over email that he is aware of the decision.

“I have received and am reviewing Judge Matthews’ Order Dismissing the Indictment against Margaret Murphy,” Campion said. “I acknowledge Judge Matthews’ thorough approach to this unusual case.”

According to the order, Campion can re-presesnt the case to a grand jury for a new indictment, and has 10 days to inform the court if he plans to do so. If not, the case will be dismissed. Campion said he has not yet decided if he’ll present the case again, but he’s aware of the upcoming deadline.

Riley Board is a Report For America participant and senior reporter at KDLL covering rural communities on the central Kenai Peninsula.