Thursday, April 19, 2012

Anchorage man pleads not guilty to federal kidnapping charges in missing barista case

Anchorage man pleads not guilty to federal kidnapping charges in missing barista case A 34-year-old man accused of kidnapping and killing an 18-year-old barista from an Anchorage coffee shack pleaded not guilty to all charges on Thursday in U.S. District Court.

Israel Keyes, 34, entered his pleas through his lawyers a day after a federal grand jury indicted the owner of a contracting business on charges of kidnaping resulting in death, receiving and possessing ransom money and debit card fraud in the death of Samantha Koenig.

Prosecutors believe that Keyes abducted Koenig on the evening of Feb. 1 just as she was preparing to close the Common Grounds coffee stand for the day, and then killed her the next morning. He then used her cell phone and debit card to demand and obtain ransom money, assistant U.S. Attorney Kevin Feldis said.

Koenig's body was pulled two months after her abduction from the bottom of a frozen lake north of the city in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough. Feldis did not indicate how Koenig died.

"The investigation is continuing," Anchorage Police Department spokesman Dave Parker said Wednesday. "This is just one step in the process."

The state of Alaska has no death penalty but Feldis said the crime of kidnapping and killing carries that potential under federal law. Feldis took no questions and did not address whether prosecutors will seek the death penalty.

Koenig's family said there was no apparent previous connection between the teen and the suspect.

Police early in the investigation said surveillance cameras showed an armed man "significantly taller" than the 5-foot-5-inch Koenig and wearing a dark hooded sweat shirt had led her away just before the coffee stand was to close at 8 p.m.

Feldis said the suspect stole a debit card from a vehicle she shared that was parked near her home, obtained the personal identification number from Koenig and scratched the number into the card.

Keyes killed Koenig early on the morning after the abduction, Feldis said. Divers on April 2 pulled Koenig's body from the bottom of a frozen lake north of the city in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough.

The case gripped Alaska for weeks as residents held out hope that Koenig would be found alive.

Keyes used Koenig's phone to send text messages to conceal the abduction, Feldis said, and then boarded a flight to Texas.

Prosecutors said he flew back to Anchorage on about Feb. 17 and a week later, on Feb. 24, sent a text message using Koenig's phone. The message demanded ransom and directed that money could be deposited in the account connected to the stolen debit card.

Koenig's family followed the directions and deposited donated reward money into the account.

Prosecutors said Keyes made withdrawals from automated teller machines twice in Alaska. He flew from Anchorage to Las Vegas on March 6 and withdrew money a day later in Willcox, Ariz., and Lordsburg, N.M. He withdrew money March 9 in Humble, Texas, and on March 11 in Shepherd, Texas, according to the indictment.

Investigators said earlier that the man who made withdrawals had hidden his face.

Police in Lufkin, Texas, stopped Keyes on March 11 on a speeding charge. He was quickly identified as a person of interest in the Koenig abduction.

Officers found rolls of cash bound in rubber bands on the floorboard of the car and maps with highlighted routes from north to south through California and highlighted areas in Arizona and New Mexico. In the trunk, officers found a gray, hooded sweat shirt, glasses and a piece of gray T-shirt cut to make a face mask and other clothing that matched those worn by the suspect as he made withdrawals in Arizona, New Mexico and Texas.

The stolen debit card was found on Keyes, authorities said.

Keyes was flown back to Anchorage and arraigned March 27 on the debit card fraud charge. A federal magistrate ordered him held without bail.

Associated Press

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