Something Remarkable Happens – Or Not?

When it came to undermining Paul Page, defense attorney Brant McGee didn’t have to try very hard. There was nothing remarkable about his approach. His questions were squarely aimed at the discrepancies in the man’s ID of the suspected killer.

Four days after the fire, for example, Page said a photograph of crewman Jerome Keown most closely resembled the skiffman. Three months after the fire, Page said photos of Dean Moon and Eric Opperman most resembled the skiffman. Fifteen months after the fire, Page was shown the first line-up that included pictures of John Peel. He picked three of six photographs as most closely resembling the skiffman. One of those three was John Peel. But, McGee noted, Page rated Peel as his third choice.

Jerome Keown on the fishing grounds
(courtesy Alaska State Archives)

Final Eyewitness Takes the Stand

The final eyewitness was Sue Domenowske, now married to Paul Page and going by her married name of Domenowske-Page. She didn’t much want to be there. She had spoken to the man presumed to have been the killer. He had been free for at least two years and each year she had grown more afraid. That didn’t stop with his arrest. Being in the courtroom didn’t assuage her fear either.

When Domenowske-Page took the stand, she told the jury that the skiffman “looked like a dirty fishennan coming in who needed to take a shower.” She estimated that she had a three minute conversation with him. Asked to describe the man, the Hollis School janitor and special education teacher said he was slim and muscular, with thin, stringy brown hair, an “ugly” chin that was set back and a handful of “bad pimples” on his face. He appeared to be in shock, she said.

Hollis School (copyright Leland E. Hale)

Detailed Memory

Of all the witnesses, Domenowske-Page had the most detailed memory. Assistant prosecutor Pat Gullufsen took his time with the young woman, sticking to general questions about what she’d seen. Nothing particularly remarkable.

Eventually Gullafson came to the crucial question. He asked her if John Peel resembled the skiff operator.

Sue Domenowske-Page spent 45 seconds staring silently at the Bellingham fisherman, who stood up at Gullufsen’s request. She asked — and was permitted — to view Peel from a side angle. Asked if John Peel resembled the skiff operator, she said, “In some respects, yes.”

Nothing remarkable there either.

Excerpts from the unpublished original manuscript, “Sailor Take Warning,” by Leland E. Hale. That manuscript, started in 1992 and based on court records from the Alaska State Archive, served as the basis for “What Happened in Craig.”

Copyright Leland E. Hale (2020). All rights reserved.


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