Story last updated at 2:32 p.m. Thursday, May 30, 2002

Lookout Mountain shooter pleads to reduced charges
by Carey James
Staff Writer

The Homer man who allegedly opened fire on a Homer couple and a passing snowmachiner last spring near Lookout Mountain has pleaded no contest to reduced charges and could be eligible for parole in 10 years.

John Powell, 39, pleaded to three counts of third-degree assault and one count of second-degree misconduct involving a weapon last Thursday in Kenai.

Originally, Powell was charged with three counts of first- degree attempted murder, three counts of first-degree attempted assault, two counts of third-degree assault and one count of second-degree misconduct involving a weapon.

Based on the original charges, Powell could have received a sentence of more than 99 years in jail, though assistant district attorney John Wolfe said the chances of a sentence of that length were slim in this case.

Powell originally pleaded not guilty to all charges. His trial was postponed numerous times, in several cases because Powell obtained new legal council.

Of the charges Powell pleaded to last week, the single count of misconduct involving a weapon is the most serious, Wolfe said. In the plea agreement, which is subject to final approval by the sentencing judge, Powell will be sentenced to 20 years in prison, but with five suspended.

On April 5, Powell, known in Homer as "Walking John," allegedly opened fire on Gabe Ritchie and Susan Malone in their remote cabin as well as passing snowmachiner Dave Baird.

According to Ritchie, he and Malone were at home around 10 p.m. when they heard the noise of shotgun fire hitting the roof.

Richie and Malone were able to call 911 using a cell phone. Soon after, they heard snowmachiners, one of which was ridden by Baird. Powell allegedly shot at Baird several times, but missed, then told the snowmachiner he would let him live if he went to the cabin and told Ritchie and Malone to come out.

When Baird came in the cabin, all three left out the back and headed toward the woods, with Malone and Richie minimally dressed. They hid in the trees behind their house and eventually hiked away from the cabin. They eventually rescued after lighting a spruce tree on fire to alert a passing helicopter to their location, and Powell surrendered to troopers.

Later, according to Alaska State Troopers, Powell said he was mad because snowmachines had been driving on his property and he believed Ritchie and Malone were harassing him.

Powell is scheduled to be sentenced Aug. 28 at 2:30 p.m. in Kenai.