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Court delays 2 murder trials

Two murder trials in Island County Superior Court have been postponed in order to give the prosecution and defense more time to prepare for the complex cases.

James Sanders, 18, appeared in court Friday for a pre-trial hearing. He was scheduled to go to trial March 22 for the murder of 15-year-old Elaine Amanda Sepulveda, but the prosecution and defense agreed to continue it until May 17.

James Alexander, 45, was originally scheduled to be re-tried March 15 for murdering his one-year-old son in 1991. During a telephonic hearing Monday, Judge Vickie Churchill agreed with the prosecution and defense in their request to move the trial date to March 29.

The Alexander trial will be scheduled for 10 days, but it shaping up to be a complex and expensive case. The prosecution, for example, listed 24 potential witnesses who will have to travel from as far away as Atlanta, Philadelphia and Broomfield, Colo.

Alexander was convicted of felony murder 14 years ago of beating his 21-month-old son to death for spilling sunflower seeds. A judge was forced to vacate his conviction, however, because of a state Supreme Court decision that overturned the felony murder statute.

Alexander wrote in his pre-sentence report that he punched the baby with a closed fist twice.

In the Sanders case, prosecutors believe the Oak Harbor High School student asphyxiated Elaine Sepulveda and buried her body behind his grandparents’ house in Oak Harbor.

Police believe Sanders’ motive was that he thought Sepulveda was pregnant with his child, though it turned out she was not pregnant.

Sanders’ grandfather told police that the young man claimed he accidentally killed the girl, knocking her down and causing her to hit her head when he tried to stop her from killing herself. The autopsy, however, showed no signs of a fatal head injury, according to the death certificate.

This trial may also be complex. Prosecutor Greg Banks filed the state’s list of 49 witnesses Feb. 23. They include Sepulveda’s family members, police officers, Navy security, crime lab scientists, FBI agents and many high school students.

You can reach Jessie Stensland at jstensland@whidbeynewstimes.com or 675-6611.

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