Jury trial set for Alaska man accused of killing coffee barista

Samantha Koenig (Source: Koenig family)
Samantha Koenig (Source: Koenig family)

LUFKIN, TX (KTRE) - The jury trial for the Alaska man accused of kidnapping and killing an 18-year-old Anchorage coffee barista in February has been set for March 11, 2013 in the U.S. District Court's Alaska District. Samantha Koenig's body was recovered in a lake north of Anchorage on April 2.

Israel Keyes, the prime suspect in the case, was arrested in Lufkin near the Cotton Patch Cafe on U.S. Highway 59 on 13 March. He was indicted and charged with kidnapping that led to the death of Koenig, who was last seen being led away from the coffee stand by an armed man on Feb. 1. Keyes was also charged with receipt and possession of ransom money and fraud with an access device.

The federal charge of kidnapping resulting in death carries a possible death sentence. In the first pretrial scheduling order, the U.S. Attorney indicated that the length of time between Keyes' indictment and his jury trial is designed to give the Department of Justice time to decide whether or not to seek the death penalty in the case.

"The court believes that this schedule allows reasonable time for counsel for the parties to discharge their respective duties with regard to the question of whether the death penalty should be sought, given due regard to the factual complexity of the case," the motion stated.

According to the Anchorage Police Department, Keyes was the only person of interest in Koenig's disappearance. Keyes was accused of using a bank card that didn't belong to Koenig, and he has been held in jail since pleading not guilty to the fraud charge on March 27.

Investigators believe Samantha died within hours of her abduction," Anchorage Police Chief Mark Mew told the Associated Press at the time.

Police released few details of the investigation or Keyes' connection to the case.

"Investigators further believe the person responsible for Samantha's death acted alone, and we are confident that we have that person in custody," Mew said at the time, not even mentioning Keyes by name.

The credit card fraud indictment explained how Keyes was seen leaving a motel room at Quality Inn & Suites, located at 4306 South First Street, and putting items into the trunk of a white Ford Focus and leaving the scene at 11 a.m. on March 13.

A state trooper conducted a traffic stop on Keyes at 11:45 a.m. Keyes told the trooper he had flown from Anchorage to Las Vegas on March 7, rented the car at the airport and drove to Lufkin over the ensuing week. He was unable to describe the route he drove or why he drove that route, since he said he was going to a wedding in Wells, according to the indictment.

Keyes became confrontational during the stop, according to the indictment.

The indictment states multiple maps were found in the care with highlighted routes from north to south through California and Arizona and New Mexico. A pair of white tennis shoes was on the floor of the vehicle, which surveillance showed he had been previously wearing. A search of the vehicle revealed a gray hooded sweatshirt, glasses and a piece of a gray T-shirt that appeared to have been cut to use as a facemask in the trunk. They also found the stolen credit card.

When Keyes, the owner of an Anchorage construction company, was transferred from East Texas to Alaska by federal marshals, Koenig's father said she did not know Keyes.

Samantha Koenig was last seen on a surveillance tape at about 8 p.m., Feb. 1, being led away by a man with a weapon from the midtown Anchorage coffee shack where she worked.

Police classified it as an abduction based on Koenig's demeanor and the man's actions from the tape. Police refused to release the tape.

Koenig's family distributed thousands of flyers showing pictures of the missing woman and offered a reward for her return.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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