Jade Williams was 19 when she died in 2017. (Photo courtesy of Grace Gordon Duncan)

A man accused of killing a young woman in the Southeast village of Kake will now stand trial in Juneau. The presiding judge agreed with the prosecutor that the COVID-19 pandemic would make it difficult to hold a jury trial this year in Petersburg. 

Jade Williams was found unresponsive on August 15th, 2017 in her hometown of Kake. Efforts to revive her failed. She was 19.

Isaac David Friday, now 28, is accused of strangling her to death. A Sitka grand jury indicted him in late 2019. He was arrested in eastern Washington and has since been in custody awaiting trial.

Prosecutors made a motion to move the venue from Petersburg to Juneau. Superior court judge William Carey ruled favorably on the motion.

“I think it was essentially agreed that the trial by all concerned and I agreed somewhat reluctantly that the case would be tried in Juneau,” Carey said in a court hearing this week.

Petersburg’s courthouse is normally the venue for Kake’s criminal cases. But district attorney Angie Kemp pointed out that courthouses in Juneau and Ketchikan were the only ones in the region currently able to host a felony jury trial with COVID precautions. 

Most of the prosecution’s witnesses live in other parts of Alaska or out of state. And she argued that the pandemic may make it difficult to seat a 12-person jury in Petersburg.

In a related development, Carey also ruled that the victim’s 77-year-old grandmother Mary Williams could give testimony via videoconference, potentially before the trial. That’s based on the state’s concerns with her health and ability to travel from Anchorage to testify.

Isaac David Friday’s defense attorney opposed that motion saying it would violate his constitutional right to confront and cross-examine a potentially hostile witness in-person. 

The victim was living at her grandmother’s house when she died. Her grandmother is expected to testify about the young woman’s relationship with the man accused of killing her. 

Another witness for the prosecution is the state’s medical examiner, expected to testify that Williams was strangled and had other injuries consistent with a physical struggle. 

A tentative trial date has been set for July 13.