Suspect pleads not guilty in missing barista case

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By MARY PEMBERTON, Associated Press

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — Among the items that remained after a barista's abduction from an Anchorage coffee stand were two partially made drinks on a messy counter, and money from the business was missing.

Surveillance footage showed a man forcing Samantha Koenig away from the coffee shack where she was working alone on Feb. 1 near one of the city's busiest intersections and to his pickup truck across the street.

Two months later, her body was recovered from a frozen lake north of the city.

Federal prosecutors now believe Israel Keyes killed Koenig the morning after the kidnapping, then used her cell phone and debit card to demand and obtain ransom money while traveling in several states.

On Thursday, Keyes, 34, pleaded not guilty in U.S. District Court to kidnapping resulting in death, receiving and possessing ransom money and debit card fraud.

"I need to make sure there is justice for Samantha," Koenig's mother, Darlene Christiansen, said before the arraignment.

She sat just several feet away from the defendant's table with three of her daughters, ages 21 to 27, sometimes reaching across to hug them. She said she wished Keyes would have pleaded guilty and hoped he eventually would receive the death penalty.

The state has no death penalty but U.S. Attorney Kevin Feldis said the crime of kidnapping and killing carries that potential under federal law.

Early in the investigation, police said surveillance cameras showed an armed man "significantly taller" than the 5-foot-5-inch Koenig wearing a dark hooded sweat shirt. He led her to his pickup truck just before the coffee stand was to close at 8 p.m.

After the teenager disappeared, Koenig's family and friends appealed to the Anchorage community to be on the lookout and try to help find her. Community concern mounted, with the word "KIDNAPPED" emblazoned in red across the top of fliers taped onto store windows and stapled to utility poles.

Police could recollect just one or two other cases that generated such intense public interest. They asked the FBI to join the investigation, saying the request is not uncommon in difficult cases that could benefit from the agency's resources.

Prosecutors said Keyes fled the state and flew to Houston after the kidnapping and returned to Anchorage Feb. 17. In the ensuing weeks, he used her cell phone and debit card to demand and obtain ransom money, prosecutors said.

On March 6, he flew to Las Vegas and then made more withdrawals from Arizona, New Mexico and Texas. He was pulled over for speeding and arrested in Texas six weeks after the young woman's disappearance.

When Keyes was arrested, police said they found rolls of cash bound in rubber bands on the floorboard of the car. In the trunk, they found a piece of gray T-shirt cut to make a face mask and other clothing that matched those worn by the suspect.

Koenig's body was recovered from Matanuska Lake this month. A cause of death has not yet been released.

A public records search showed no indication of Keyes having a prior criminal history.

Handcuffed and wearing jail garb, he appeared for Thursday's arraignment before a packed courtroom where members of the FBI sat next to Anchorage Police Chief Mark Mew and the lead detective in the case.

Christiansen said the night before, she and her daughters watched home videos of Samantha.

"She was beautiful, full of life and laughter," Christiansen said. "I miss her laughter so much."

James Koenig Jr., reached at his home, said ever since his daughter was a young child she loved animals and wanted to be a veterinarian. She had also about wanting to go in the Navy and become a nurse — a plan that he liked more than working at the coffee shack. But, he said, she wanted a job.

He had said previously that he was concerned about his daughter working alone at the coffee shack. He said Thursday it was too hard to talk about her.

"I can't put Samantha in a nutshell," he said.

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