Alaska man Nathanial Kangas was found guilty of first-degree murder by a Fairbanks jury on Monday. The 22-year-old shot and killed two Alaska state troopers in early May 2014.
As troopers Sergeant Patrick “Scott” Johnson and Gabe Rich were arresting Arvin Kangas on a misdemeanor charge, Nathanial Kangas shot the two officers. As the troopers were clearly identifiable prior to shooting them, the convicted murderer will likely be sentenced to a mandatory 198 years in prison — 99 years for each trooper.
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Kangas was also convicted of third-degree assault of a public safety officer and tampering with evidence for moving marijuana plants. A sentencing hearing will be held in August.
On May 1, 2014, troopers Johnson and Rich arrived at the Tanana, Alaska, home of Arvin Kangas to arrest him for threats made to a public safety officer the day before. Kangas fought with the officers and eventually stumbled through the front door.
His son, Nathanial, was waiting inside the residence with a rifle and opened fire on the troopers as they entered. The father and son then rearranged the bodies and weapons to make it appear that the officers drew their weapons during the struggle.
“We can say this about a lot of things in our life, if Arvin Kangas had cooperated with the troopers, we wouldn’t be here today,” District Attorney Gregg Olson said. “We can always look back and find points that would have changed what did happen, but that doesn’t reduce Nathanial’s responsibility for killing two troopers.”
Attorneys for the younger Kangas unsuccessfully argued that the shooting was an attempt to protect the elder Kangas and was unintentional. Defense lawyer Greg Parvin said the man was not guilty of premeditated murder and should only be convicted of manslaughter.
However, the prosecution countered by saying the semi-automatic weapon was fired with accuracy, leaving the two officers dead on the floor and the elder Kangas unharmed. According to Olson, the weapon was fired seven times in two seconds.
“He had to be precise not to shoot his father, his father was underneath the state troopers,” he said.
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Also, the prosecution pointed out that Kangas entered the home nearly 30 minutes before the troopers showed up and loaded the rifle just minutes before the shooting. Under Alaskan law, a first-degree murder conviction does not require premeditation, so the jury only had to conclude that Kangas acted with intent.
Superior Court Judge Paul Lyle reminded the court that “defense of others” is not a lawful justification for the actions of Kangas on that terrible day.
As the troopers lay dead on the floor, their personal audio recorders were still functioning. The equipment continued to record for several hours, which caught the father and son’s conversation about how to dispose of some marijuana plants. The recording also included the sounds of the officers’ holsters being unsnapped.
According to Parvin, the young man was taught to hate law enforcement by his father, who is a member of an anti-government organization named Athabascan Nation. Neither Nathanial nor any witnesses testified for the defense.
Arvin Kangas was convicted of evidence tampering in a previous trial and received eight years in prison for the crime. The father wore gloves when he deliberately moved Johnson’s gun from its holster to make it look like the pistol was drawn when troopers entered the home. The elder Kangas was also convicted of assault for threatening a public safety officer, the original charge that led the officers to attempt his arrest two years ago.
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After three hours of deliberation, the jury announced the guilty verdict of Nathanial Kangas in front of a packed courtroom filled will numerous members of law enforcement. Before being killed in the line of duty, officers Johnson and Rich appeared on National Geographic channel’s show Alaska State Troopers.
[Photo by Michael Dinneen/AP Images]