Saario found guilty of second-degree murder
By NIKKI YOUNK
CRYSTAL FALLS — An Alpha man accused of killing his stepdaughter was found guilty Friday of second-degree murder and discharge a firearm in or at a building causing death after a week-long jury trial in Iron County Trial Court.
The verdict indicated the jury believed 66-year-old Alfred Michael Saario intended to kill or seriously harm 29-year-old Jamie Lee James, but the action wasn’t pre-meditated.
Saario will return to court Sept. 21 for sentencing. Each charge carries a penalty of any term of years up to life.
The jury of seven women and five men deliberated for nearly four hours Friday. On the homicide charge, they had the option to convict on first degree pre-meditated murder, second degree murder or voluntary manslaughter, or to acquit based on Saario’s testimony of self defense.
“There’s never any winner in these types of cases,” Iron County Prosecutor Melissa Powell said after the verdict. “It isn’t a cause for celebration; it’s a resolution and a hope for healing.”
Defense attorney Henry McRoberts said he and Saario were “disappointed” with the outcome but respected the jury’s decision.
Members of James’ family, including her mother, who also is Saario’s wife, declined to comment.
Neither Powell nor McRoberts denied Saario fatally shot James in his Alpha home on June 22, 2016. But no one else witnessed the minutes leading up to the shooting or the incident itself.
Saario testified James burst into his upstairs bedroom in a rage, grabbed his cellphone and ran out.
The pair had a “bitter” and “strained” relationship, marked with physical and verbal fights.
Saario claimed he feared for his and his wife’s safety, so took two bullets off his dresser and loaded his rifle as he went downstairs.
He started walking to the back porch but heard a noise and turned to see James in the darkness.
When she made a threatening comment, he shot her “as a reaction.”
Although Saario then turned the gun on himself, he said he didn’t actually want to die and didn’t do it out of guilt from the killing.
He sustained severe facial injuries but no brain injuries, he said.
Powell pushed for a first degree murder conviction in closing statements Friday, noting Saario himself said it took three minutes from James stealing his phone to the shooting. She even had the jury sit in silence for three minutes to demonstrate that was long enough to deliberate a killing.
Furthermore, Powell pointed out Saario actively pursued James downstairs. If he were so fearful of her, he could have just stayed in his room, she argued.
“She had been a thorn in his side for 12 years,” Powell said. “He saw the opportunity to rid himself of the problem and took it; he was her jury, he was her judge and he was her executioner.”
James’ past violent behavior to Saario and her threatening comment to him that evening gave him reason to fear for his own safety, McRoberts stated in his closing remarks.
“He was under serious attack in his own home, and he exercised his statutory right to defend himself with deadly force,” McRoberts said.