One man’s war

Dave Haeg being commandeered by Alaska law enforcement in 2017/Tim Twohy photo

Table reversed to put retired judge on trail

Nineteen years ago in Alaska, a then-big game guide by the name of David Haeg was convicted of illegally hunting wolves from an airplane in an incident that made national news.

Haeg has protested ever since that he was wrongfully pursued and punished, and he has for almost two decades now waged what for a long time seemed a futile one-man war against city hall in a country where it is generally understood you can’t fight city hall.

He has now, however, won an apparent victory of some sort in the form of perjury charges brought against former Alaska District Court Judge Margaret Murphy, one of those Haeg has long accused of helping to frame him for an acts he committed with state approval.

Of the fact that he shot and killed some wolves, there is no doubt. Whether he was wrong in shooting them, or should have been penalized to the extent he was for doing so, is harder to determine.

Haeg’s story is a unfortunately long and complicated involves more than just the legal system. Politics, economics and public relations are all entangled here, and to really understand what is going on you have to go back to the start of where the story began.


A little-known Alaska big game guide, as most are, Haeg made national news in November 2004 when the Associated Press (AP) reported that “court papers show that David Haeg, 38, of Soldotna, and Tony Zellers, 41, of Eagle River, each face five counts of shooting wolves from a plane, two counts of unlawful possession of game, and one count of lying about where they shot…wolves.

“Haeg, owner and operator of Trophy Lake Lodge, also is charged with two counts of trapping in closed season and one count of failure to salvage game. Each charge is a misdemeanor, punishable by up to a year in jail and a $10,000 fine.”

What the story left out was the ever-shifting politics that have for years surrounded state-sanctioned predator control in the 49th state. Killing wolves and bears to help increase the number of moose and caribou in the 49th state has been widely popular at some times and widely unpopular at other times.

The pendulum was swinging fast from popular to unpopular in 2004 thanks to lobbying from The New York Times.

In March of that year, The Times offered its opinion that Alaska was trying to render wolves extinct across 20,000 square miles of the state, an area about 5,000 square miles larger than that of the nation’s four smallest states – Rhode Island, Delaware, Connecticut and New Jersey – combined.

“…New regulations call for an 80 percent ‘temporary’ reduction in the wolf population. But a reduction on that scale is merely likely to be the first step towards the total elimination of wolves,” wrote the Times’ editorialists with apparent knowledge of a secret state scheme. “This isn’t sport hunting – there’s nothing sporting about deploying an air force to hunt animals. The real spirit of hunting has always been about working within the balance of nature. But not in Alaska.”

The authors of the editorial had apparently never studied human history or ecology. Since the days of homo sapiens in caves, hunting has been solely about killing animals for food, not working with nature.

And the bogus concept of some sort of “balance of nature” itself dates back to Greek mythology and is no more real than Zeus, the god who controls the weather. 

The reality is that natural systems are dynamic and teeter-tooter through time with predators and prey in varying abundances.

Sporting “spirit”

The “spirit” to which the Times referred was really “conservation theory” and the associated conservation ethic that developed in the United States early in the 20th century as all sorts of animals were being hunted toward extinction with some already extinct, most notably the passenger pigeon everywhere across the continent and the grizzly bear in 10 of the 13 states it once roamed.

From these same roots came the idea of managing wildlife to maximize abundance. In most of the Lower 48 states, this did involve getting rid of wolves, because wolves are hard to manage.

Wildlife managers can’t really close the hunting season for wolves when prey numbers are in decline. The wolves are going to go on eating deer and elk and other big game no matter their abundance or scarcity because that is how wolves survive.

No matter what author Farley Mowatt might have fantasized bout wolves living on a diet of mice, wolves don’t live on a diet of mice. Wolves live on a diet of hoofed animals as the International Wolf Center points out.

This was an obvious problem for farmers raising livestock in the Lower 48 states, which is largely why wolves were expirated there. Very little farming is done in Alaska, but The Times appeared confident there was a plot to do in Alaska what had already been done in most other states.

“There is already a hunting and trapping season for Alaskan wolves, and some 7,500 wolves have been legally killed in the past five years,” the Times wrote. “But hunters want more moose meat on the table, and the state has promised them unnaturally high numbers” by eliminating the wolves that eat moose.

An annual harvest of 1,500 wolves per year from a population of 7,000 to 11,000 was itself a wholly sustainable kill that was eliminating nothing, given that wildlife researchers had discovered that wolf “population trends were not correlated with the annual human take at less than or equal to 29 percent (harvest).”

For those unable to do math quickly in their head, 1,500 wolves removed from a population of 7,000 to 9,000 equals 21 percent at its greatest. This might seem a high harvest to those who think of wolves as majestic wild dogs, but wolves are not at all like domestic canines.

Wolves evolved to function with naturally high annual mortalities. The science has generally concluded that up to about that 30 percent harvest level, humans are only removing wolves destined to die naturally in some other way. This is what ecologists call “compensatory predation.”

The Times didn’t get down into all this nitty-gritty about predator management or predator control, however, instead choosing to parachute into the debate with its view that “anyone who has visited Yellowstone (National Park) since wolves were reintroduced has a vivid sense of their role in the ecosystem and in the human imagination. But in Alaska the age-old war on wolves has resumed with all its age-old savagery – the savagery of humans, that is.”

Tourism boycott

The warning of Alaska savagery helped fuel previous talk of an Alaska tourism boycott that had begun the year before after the AP reported that the animal-rights group Friends of Animals “will go forward with a national tourism boycott of Alaska if it fails to win its lawsuit to stop hunters from shooting wolves from airplanes.”

Tourism being a mainstay business in the 49th state, the threat of a boycott generated significant concern. And then Alaska Gov. Frank Murkowski, who was no big fan of predator control to begin with, found himself caught between a state legislature that wanted wolves dead and a tourism industry that feared a boycott.

His solution was to take the state out of the picture, at least technically. He made an in-state claim to standing firm against outside environmentalists wanting a boycott, and while argugin the state was out of the predator-control business with what killing there was to be done being left to private shooters who “receive no compensation other than the (hides of the) wolves they kill, which must be retrieved” as the Anchorage Daily News reported in December 2003.

“Obviously we’re concerned about any action that would detract from the attractiveness of Alaska to visitors,” Murkowski told reporters at the time. “But we’ve got to communicate that that was one of the things statehood was all about – the ability to manage our lands and renewable resources, and we think we’re doing a responsible job of that.”

Enter Dave Haeg

When Haeg and Zeller were charged with illegally hunting wolves less than a year later, the charges were portrayed as the state doing Murkowski’s “responsible job.”

The two hunters were accused of straying outside of a designated wolf-control zone to kill wolves and then claiming those wolves were killed within the zone. And Haeg was further charged with trapping wolves, rather than shooting them, when a season was closed, and leaving some dead wolves for scavengers to feed on rather than retrieving them.

Zellers quickly worked out a plea deal to the charges against him. He pled guilty to three misdemeanors and what the state classifies as a “minor offense” in exchange for paying $4,000 in fines. State court records show his case was settled on Jan. 13, 2005, barely two months after charges were first lodged.

Haeg, however, refused to take a deal and eventually went to trial in McGrath, a tiny, Central Alaska community along the Kuskokwim River, with Murphy, a judge from the small town of Homer hundreds of miles away at the tip of the Kenai Peninsula presiding.

Murphy was, by all accounts, on friendly terms with Alaska Wildlife Trooper Brent Gibbens, who brought the charges against Haeg. But then District Court judges and the law enforcement officers with whom they deal regularly are often on friendly terms.

The court of appeals, in one of three times it took up the charges against Haeg, ruled that there wasn’t enough evidence to support a conclusion that Murphy and Gibbens having dinner together in McGrath influenced the judge’s actions.

And it was a jury that convicted Haeg of shooting nine wolves outside the designated kill area and reporting they’d been legally shot before Murphy sentenced him to more than a year and a half in jail, but with all of that sentence suspended but for 35 days on the condition of good behavior.

The judge did, however, put him on probation for seven years, fined him $6,000, took away his guide license for five years, ordered him to pay the state another $4,500 in “restitution” for the dead wolves, and stipulated he forfeit his plane, a Piper PA-12 Super Cruiser, to the state.

The plane, outfitted as it was for Alaska Bush flying, was worth upwards of $50,000. A similar aircraft is now on the market in the Anchorage area for $179,000. 

Haeg’s fine alone – not counting the value of the airplane – was 12 times bigger than that a state judge levied on former Board of Fisheries member Roland Maw for stealing almost $10,000 from the Alaska Permanent Fund, which is a felony, and grossly abusing the public trust.

The one-time director of the United Cook Inlet Drift Association, an influential commercial fishing lobby, Maw managed to weasel his way onto the Alaska regulation-setting Board of Fisheries while living mainly in Montana.

Haeg lacked Maw’s political connections – former Gov. Bill Walker was good buddies with UCIDA and Maw – and the state really wanted Haeg’s Super Cub especially outfitted for short landings and short take-offs on makeshift runways in rural Alaska. Seized planes like this help the Wildlife Troopers field a small air force in in the 49th state.

The state’s refusal to let Haeg keep the plane as any part of a plea deal was the main reason he went to court, where he lost the plane anyway.

After his conviction, he immediately appealed, claiming state prosecutors used perjured witnesses and violated the rules of evidence, and that Judge Murphy had prejudiced his defense, among other things. The Alaska Court of Appeals eventually sent the conviction back to the lower courts to consider some very limited issues, and that was when things got truly crazy.


When Haeg appeared before Anchorage Superior Court Judge William Morse in Dec. 2017 for yet another in a long list of hearings, he brought about 50 backers with him to the courthouse.

The hearing on that occasion ended with a small mob of law enforcement officers being called to the courthouse to quell a disturbance during which Haeg was put face down on the floor and tased in front of his supporters.

By this time, Haeg had given up on attorneys and was representing himself, and it did not go well. Morse opened the hearing by announcing he’d gone over the decision by the appellate court and was going to “lay out the five areas that Mr. Haeg is able to go forward on here.”

Morse then started reading. His tone wasn’t exactly friendly, and a few minutes into the lecture, he snapped, “Mr. Haeg, are you listening.”

When Haeg replied, “Yes;” Morse responded with “Good,” and then resumed reading.

After Morse finished outlining the first of his five areas and asked Haeg if he understood, the then 51-year-old man responded by telling the judge that all the questions had already been answered in previous filings with the court.

Morse basically told him he’d need to do that again and offered some instructions on how before continuing. This went on until Haeg interrupted and began talking about state officials lying under oath at his trial. The following exchange then took place:

“See, that’s my problem with this whole process right here is the court of appeals is laying out these little minutiae areas that
they’re going to allow me to go forward on, when the things like these maps, that were falsified by the state before trial…” Haeg said.

Morse cut him off.

“Listen to me carefully, Mr.  Haeg..,” Morse said.

“And there’s a recording,” Haeg interjected.

“Listen to me carefully,” Morse repeated. “Listen to me carefully.”

“OK,” Haeg said.

“…There are five areas you’re going to go into,” Morse explained, “and I know that you think there are other things that you want to talk about. I’m not going to let you talk about those other things. I’m going to let you talk about the five things that the court of appeals told the trial court to let you present.”

From there, everything started spiraling downhill with Morse telling Haeg what he wanted, and Haeg repeatedly trying to interject with claims to a pile of evidence that he’d been framed.

As this went on, Haeg’s supporters became increasingly agitated and Morse, recognizing the tension in the courtroom, became more conciliatory. Haeg, however, admitted he was starting to lose control, telling that judge that “the reason why I’m sitting here shaking in anger and frustration is I’ve never had an evidentiary hearing in 13 years….”

Haeg was by then ranting a bit and went on to claim he “could
prove widespread corruption in Alaska’s judicial system. And I know that’s a fantastic claim. But do you know why I believe everybody here is here? It’s because they’ve seen it on their own and they are concerned.”


Morse offered his condolences, but added that he was unable to do anything but follow the directions of the court of appeals. Haeg argued the judge had a constitutional responsibility to get to the truth.

At that, court documents reflect mumblings from the crowd and Morse demanding to know who was talking. An “unidentified speaker,” according to the documents, identified himself.

“Your Honor, it’s somebody that’s…,” Haeg started to interject, but Morse cut him off

“Stop,” he said. “Just stop.”

Haeg tried to continue. Morse told him to stop again. The “unidentified speaker” entered into a conversation with Morse. Morse explained proper court behavior to the man, and then shifted the conversation back to the five “areas,” wrapping up the fifth of them he wanted covered and asking Haeg how much time he needed to complete “the various filings on those five topics?”

Which was when everything went south.

“Well, before I do that, I’m going to go over this order from the court of appeals,” Haeg said.

Morse told him no. Haeg kept going, arguing that he was again being railroaded. There was a lot of back and forth with Morse clearly recognizing he was losing control of the courtroom.

Out of control

At one point, Haeg thanked the crowd for attending. Morse told him that was inappropriate and several times ordered him to sit down. Haeg did not sit down.

Instead, he started reading from a prepared statement.

“Sit down, Mr. Haeg, before I hold you in contempt,” Morse said.

Haeg was undeterred. Morse announced he was ready to turn the court recorder off and clear the courtroom, but reconsidered and allowed Haeg to keep reading until eventually pleading with him to define how long he needed to ramble on.

“Mr. Haeg, have at least the decency, just the human kindness, to give me an idea of how long you think..,” the judge said before Haeg cut him off by saying he needed five hours.

That was it for Morse. There was only a little more back and forth before he gave Haeg a court date of Feb. 19 and left the courtroom.

As he was doing that, among Haeg’s last words before the recording was turned off were these:

“…Your case has shades of Selma (Alabama) in the ’60s…where judges, sheriffs and even assigned lawyers were all in cahoots

The words were somewhat prophetic in that law enforcement personnel were within minutes swarming the courtroom, and Haeg was getting much the same treatment as those civil rights protestors in Selma long ago.

Alaska State of Corruption

Most people would likely have given up at this point, if not sooner, and just moved on.

Not Haeg.

Now running out of court options, he began organizing a petition to investigate the entire Alaska judicial system. He got some big help from a man named Ray Southwell, who was named to serve on a  Kenai grand jury at the start of 2018.

Both became involved in an organization called Alaska State of Corruption, and managed to turn the law against all the Alaska Bar Association sanctioned lawyers that run the legal system.

This started when Southwell, filed an affidavit claiming he presented “evidence to my fellow (Kenai) grand jurors, so we could investigate it and write a report with our recommendations. Much came from David Haeg; evidence of crimes by district attorney Scot Leaders, judge investigator Marla Greenstein, judges, and troopers.

“Agencies overseeing these individuals were implicated. It was clear Mr. Haeg was victimized by an unlawful judicial process followed by a coverup. I also obtained evidence implicating the Office of Children’s Services in crime and coverup. All evidence pointed to systemic corruption concerning the public’s welfare and safety.

“Before I could present the evidence to my fellow grand jurors, and before we could investigate it, DA Leaders personally stopped the process, gathered up my documents, and obtained an order from Judge Jennifer Wells prohibiting me from disclosing my concerns and evidence to my fellow grand jurors.”

And there arose a problem because Alaska has a state statute that says this:

“If an individual grand juror knows or has reason to believe that a crime has been committed that is triable by the court, the juror shall disclose it to the other jurors, who shall investigate it.”

Eventually, that law basically allowed Southwell to hijack a grand jury to begin investigating only they know which state investigators, prosecutors and judges.

What if anything the jury found is unknown. Grand jury proceedings are, by law, kept secret. But it was a Kenai grand jury that in May indicted Murphy on charges of perjury, a felony.

That indictment does not mention Haeg, but among the witnesses known to have testified before the grand jury are Gibbens, Zellers, and two of Haeg’s former attorneys, who Haeg basically accused of malpractice or conspiracy in earlier court filings.

They, along with the various judges involved in the case to date, were basically exonerated by the appeals courts’ last ruling on a Haeg appeal  – Haeg III   – in March 2021. At that time, the court firmly stated its view that Haeg was convicted because the evidence showed that he and Zellers did, in fact, shoot wolves in an area for which they lacked a permit to kill wolves but later claimed the wolves had been killed in an area open to aerial predator control.

The appeals court judges also endorsed Morse’s conclusion, which eventually followed the December 2017 madness, that “Haeg and his witnesses were not credible in their descriptions of how extensive the alleged ex parte contacts were (in McGrath). The judge (Morse) reasoned that if Judge Murphy’s contacts with the trooper had been as egregious as Haeg and his witnesses now claimed, then Haeg would have complained to (his attorney) and (his attorney) would have taken action.”

Ex parte is a Latin term for working out a deal with one side in litigation in the absence of the other party.

Morse, the appeals judges added, “also reasoned that if Judge Murphy’s conduct had been that egregious, there would have been further corroboration of Haeg’s claims – e.g., Haeg or his witnesses would have taken pictures, the prosecutor would have been alerted to what was going on and would have taken action….

“Accordingly, Judge Morse found that, although Judge Murphy may have shared rides with Trooper Gibbens on occasion, there was no credible evidence that the conduct occurred with the frequency that Haeg alleged, or that the conduct was so egregious as to cause a reasonable disinterested person to objectively believe ‘that the judge’s ability to carry out judicial responsibilities with integrity, impartiality, and competence is impaired.’

“Judge Morse further found that Judge Murphy’s ‘commandeering’ of the trooper to get a Diet Coke at sentencing did not give rise to an appearance of bias because the judge made clear there would be no ex parte communication and Haeg’s attorney made clear that he had no objection. Judge Morse also noted that (Murphy’s) announcement at sentencing that she was ‘commandeering’ Trooper Gibbens to drive to the store to get a Diet Coke suggested that there were no earlier occasions when such conduct occurred as it would be ‘strange that she would make this announcement for the first time in the proceedings if she had been riding with Gibbens three or more times each day during the seven-day trial without making a similar announcement.'”

There is a lot of supposition there.

Whether a jury of average Alaskans would see things this way if Murphy eventually goes to trial – and if, in fact, the perjury charges brought against Murphy involve the McGrath trial – remains to be seen. But District Court judges in Alaska and the law enforcement personnel they deal with on a regular basis at that lower court level, do sometimes as friendly in the Far North as they are well known for doing in the Deep South.

How much that affects their judgment and/or behavior could be an interesting topic for a jury to consider because in almost all forms of government everywhere there is what many Americans would consider corruption, but it is not necessarily what the governing legal system considers corruption.

And Murphy does have a record for being a little too tight with law enforcement. In 2016, the Alaska Attorney General was among those telling the Court of Appeals that Muephy had illegally convicted a Homer man of possession of marijuana.

The man, who by coincidence happened to also have the last name of Murphy “was found guilty at the conclusion of a bench trial in the district court,” the appeals ruling says. “The state now concedes that Murphy’s trial was illegal because (1) (defendant) Murphy was entitled to trial by jury, and (2) the district court (that being Judge Murphy) failed to address Murphy personally to ascertain that he was knowingly waiving his right to a jury trial.

“After we received the state’s brief and read the state’s concession of error, we independently examined the record and we concluded that the state’s concession was well-founded.”





















12 replies »

  1. Might be difficult to get a prosecutor to take this to trial. Some states allow a private citizen to prosecute a criminal case when public prosecutors decline. I don’t think Alaska is one of those states. Charging and trail decisions are discretionary. My bet is that judge Murphy will never be prosecuted.
    More importantly though, is Haeg’s behavior. It seems somewhat pathological and he may present a danger. I would be concerned if I were the judge.

    • I’d say obsessive, not pathological. And I’ve never heard of him making any threats against anyone involved in all this, which has been going on for a long, long time. That sort of thing doesn’t clear his name, which seems his main goal.

      • Years ago “Wild Bill Nelson” claimed repeatedly, that an Anchorage judge and his own lawyer conspired against him in his divorce proceeding that awarded most of the marital estate to his wife. He drove a truck around the courthouse with all sorts of signs “ kill the lawyers”’throw out the judges” etc for many years. He was written off as a crazy old man just exercising his 1st amendment rights. That is until a tip came saying he had planted a bomb in the court house. It was totally evacuated. No bomb found. But one was found in Wild Bill’s home. He was convicted and put in prison.
        Another case that involved two young men who were convicted of murder for shooting a man in another car on the Glenn Highway based on the testimony of a friend in the car resulted in yet another homicide. The father of the witness was killed by a bomb sent by mail. The bomb was made by a girl friend and another friend of one of the shooter whose threats while in prison were not considered seriously.
        You never know. The line between a disgruntled participant in the court system ( obsessive) and a person consumed with enough hate to resort to violence ( pathological) can be blurred. I know: even paranoids have enemies. But after 20 years of relentless battle, and losing all of them up to now, only to have prosecutors refuse to follow up on this very unusual indictment might be lighting the fuse. If I were Murphy I would bone up on my skills in exercising my 2d amendment rights.

      • Haeg doesn’t impress me as someone to worry about in that regard, but maybe I’m prejudice by too many years of threats.

      • “clear his name, which seems his main goal”.

        I can understand where Mr. Haeg is coming from. Over a year and a half ago, a woman ran a stop sign and T Boned my driver’s door. Within minutes, She contacted Her GEICO insurance. She and GEICO readily admitted liability and GEICO agreed to pay that day’s doctor and hospital bills. Simple right? I kept getting e-mails saying they were paying those bills. Approximately 14 months later, I got a dunning letter from Cornerstone Credit. Shocked, I checked my credit rating. It had gone from 818 to around 650. I called Cornerstone, GEICO, the doctor’s billing office, and Providence. All basically said, “Too bad, so sad, we can’t fix your credit score. GEICO said, they were “going to” pay Cornerstone, but couldn’t fix the credit score.

        I called GEICO and Cornerstone and told them I had the years’ worth of e-mails and although I’m anti Twitter & Facebook, I would join them and copy and paste all the e-mails and tell people not to believe or have GEICO Insurance. Lo and behold, my credit score returned to its prior number and eventually the bills disappeared.

      • Alaskans first – is it possible you over simplified the wild bill saga ?To an extreme degree?. You also said extreme things about him when he is dead and can’t defend himself- is that honorable?. Do you have the court documents to prove what you said? Do you have first person witness testimony to prove what you said about his specific reason for driving his sign truck around town? Is it not strange you claim he went to prison after someone lied about him planting a b/mb ? When he didn’t? Do you have proof of what they found in his house? Was it planted? Was it even functional?
        You equate wild billl a semi crazy man who may or may not have done what you said who was never convicted of injuring anyone with a guide who had his plane stolen by the government for things he may not have done and you condemn him as dangerous despite no evidence this guide has hurt anyone involved? Is this true?
        Are your words just?

    • Alaskans first –
      How closely did you know wild bill nelson ?
      Have you read :
      (farewell to my friend “wild” Bill Nelson.)

      From the frontiersman online newspaper from 2004

      Your description of Bill doesn’t seem square with the frontiersman article.

      What proofs do you have to paint bill in a very dark color?
      Im not saying you are not correct. Im just saying extreme accusations generally require full proof
      Especially if it is used to color a potentially innocent man as a dangerous guilty person. ( the guide in medreds article)
      Perhaps you have full evidence of bills guilt?

  2. “……….The judge………..stipulated he forfeit his plane, a Piper PA-12 Super Cruiser, to the state. The plane, outfitted as it was for Alaska Bush flying, was worth upwards of $50,000. A similar aircraft is now on the market in the Anchorage area for $179,000……….. the state really wanted Haeg’s Super Cub especially outfitted for short landings and short take-offs on makeshift runways in rural Alaska. Seized planes like this help the Wildlife Troopers field a small air force in in the 49th state. The state’s refusal to let Haeg keep the plane as any part of a plea deal was the main reason he went to court, where he lost the plane anyway………….”
    It’s all about the plane. Everybody knows it. Yes, it is corruption to the core. I wish Mr. Haeg good fortune in his legal attempts to hold the legal system to account for their corrupt arrogance.

  3. Now that is investigative news reporting! Thanks Craig. Just one err. Persons with a permit to take wolves with the use of aircraft, are not hunting. In fact the requirement is that you have a resident trapping license as one of the permit conditions.

    • Word games. I prefer not to play them. Shooting animals, whether from an airplane or not, is hunting, not trapping. Trapping requires the use of traps. The latter defines it no matter what standards the state might impose as to the type of license.

      • Sorry, but words have meaning, and the dictionary says trapping requires a trap. The state of Alaska can write any kind of goofy regulations it wants, but I will continue to call shooting hunting or just shooting.

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