Story last updated at 2:41 p.m. Thursday, October 3, 2002

Ex-trooper wants justice served in Wood case
by Chris Bernard
Staff Writer

Former Alaska State Trooper Lary Kuhns said that right from the beginning of his investigation, he suspected Wanda Wood's 1997 death was not an accident.

Now, five years later, he said he thinks the case was not pursued aggressively enough, and reluctantly places the blame on his superiors in the Alaska State Troopers.

"The last thing I want to do is come across as a disgruntled ex-employee, or a white knight or anything," he said. "I just feel like the facts in this case speak for themselves, and justice was not served.

"I interviewed Darling about five times over the course of the investigation, and I received a lot of conflicting information from him," Kuhns said. "He couldn't keep his story straight. I felt we needed to do some surveillance, talk to Darling's contacts, go through his trash. There are a billion things you can do in an investigation -- that was all denied by (the troopers)."

Despite what he thought were facts pointing strongly to homicide, Kuhns had no witnesses, and would need to prove the case. But his superiors wanted the case closed, he said.

"This had all the earmarks of a homicide, and if you combine that with logic and common sense, it's just a matter of proving it," he said. "It doesn't get much worse than domestic violence homicide. But (my superiors) restricted my ability to investigate this case, restricted things such as travel, told me not to serve any search warrants. (They) felt, I guess, that it was not a case I could prove, and that I was wasting my time."

Captain Dave Hudson, who was commander of the Homer Alaska State Troopers post at the time of the investigation, dismisses those claims.

"I believe it was looked into very aggressively," he said. "Troopers Kuhns and Smith and myself spent literally hundreds of hours on this investigation. Troopers have to do a multitude of things, they can't just focus on one case."

Hudson said that early on in the case, the investigation began to consider the death as something other than accidental.

"Unfortunately, it's not good enough knowing or believing it's a crime," he said. "You have to prove it. No witnesses have come forward and said they'd seen it. As the investigation progressed, Darling's claims seemed to be less and less reasonable, but that's not enough."

Hudson said the case remains open, but added that "There's just not a whole lot to actively pursue at this point in time."

He would not comment on Kuhns' claims except to say this is not the first time he's heard of them.

"Lary Kuhns is no longer an Alaska State Trooper," he said. "My personal feelings about him are inappropriate to discuss. I know he's not a happy camper, but I have no comment about that."

At the time, Kuhns said, he continued to work on the case "behind the scenes." But within a year, he'd resigned from the troopers, a decision he said was partially due to the way the Darling investigation was handled. After leaving the troopers, he became an investigator for the Homer Police Department until his retirement earlier this year.

"I loved working for the Alaska State Troopers," said Kuhns, who in 1994 was named Trooper of the Year. "In some ways, that case was symptomatic of the organization. If things had been handled differently internally, I'd probably still be working for the troopers."

Now, he's happy that new life has been breathed into the investigation.

"It's been over five years since this happened," he said. "No good can come from waiting. People forget, people die, people move, people go on with their lives. Evidence gets lost, and all kinds of things happen. It just gets harder to make a case."

Kuhns said he is unsure how a jury would look at the case today.

"All I can say is that in the interest of justice, you need to dress for the ballgame. You do your best and go forward with it. That didn't happen, in my opinion. I've seen cases with much less (merit) go forward" he said. "This wouldn't be cheap to go forward with, but on the other hand it's pretty important. Justice needs to be served. In this case, I don't believe it has been."

Chris Bernard can be reached at cbernard@homernews.com.

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