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4 of 6 people charged in connection to murder of Seward man take plea deals

Preston Atwood, 21, was found dead in August of 2019. Six people were charged in connection...
Preston Atwood, 21, was found dead in August of 2019. Six people were charged in connection with his murder.(Brooke Andrews)
Published: Dec. 7, 2020 at 8:30 PM AKST
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - More than a year after a Seward man disappeared, several of the people charged in his murder have struck deals with the state.

According to a 12-page criminal affidavit filed in the case, 21-year-old Preston Atwood’s mother reported Atwood missing on Aug. 27, 2019 after she had not seen him since Aug. 25. She told police he was recovering from a broken leg, using crutches and did not have his wallet or phone on him.

A months-long investigation by the Seward Police Department revealed Atwood had been lured to 4th of July Beach, as it’s called by locals, and beaten to death with a baseball bat.

In November 2019, SPD announced charges against six people in connection with Atwood’s assault and murder: Timothy Ryan, 25; James Helberg, 19; Tyler Goddard, 20; Laurel Correa, 20; Jennifer Harren, 46; and Melanie Goddard, 40, who was the only suspect not charged with murder.

Goddard was charged with tampering with a witness and interfering with an official proceeding by threatening a witness, while the others faced several felony charges including murder, conspiracy to commit murder, assault, conspiracy to commit assault and evidence tampering.

Online court records show Melanie Goddard pleaded guilty to tampering with a witness in March and her case is closed.

This month, Tyler Goddard, James Helberg and Laurel Correa took plea deals.

According to an inmate locator database, Tyler Goddard is out on pretrial supervision, Correa is out of custody and Helberg remains in custody at Wildwood Correctional Center.

Correa, the latest of the defendants to change her plea, pleaded guilty to criminally negligent homicide for a sentence of five years with four years and four months suspended, leaving eight months to serve. Her attorney said during her telephonic hearing that with credit for time served already, she will have fulfilled her sentence.

Correa and others who have taken plea deals in the case won’t be sentenced until after the cases of their codefendants are resolved. Part of their plea deal requires they testify against their co-defendants if and when those cases go to trial.

Ryan and his mother, Harren, remain in custody, charged with murder.

According to the affidavit, Helberg told police it was Ryan who repeatedly hit Atwood with the baseball bat, an assault that allegedly lasted for several minutes. Helberg allegedly told police that Tyler Goddard stood next to Ryan during the entire ordeal, but did not take part in the beating and that Harren had stood next to her son as he began beating Atwood, but walked away before he stopped.

Helberg, Ryan and Harren allegedly disposed of Atwood’s body later that night along a local trail.

Brooke Andrews, Atwood’s aunt, said the change of plea hearings has been a difficult ordeal for the family.

“I felt the exact same anxiety and fear and anger as a year ago,” she said. “It was for me, like, just going through it all over again.”

She said the thought of potentially running into someone at the local grocery store who admittedly had a hand in her nephew’s murder is upsetting.

“The worst, the heaviest sentencing, is for our family,” said Andrews. “The heaviest sentencing is for Seward, you know, we’re getting a life sentence. We’re getting a life sentence of losing a loved one.”

Andrews said she does not yet feel that justice has been served.

Criminal jury trials are suspended in Alaska through mid-March, 2021.

Harren and Ryan’s next court hearings are scheduled for January.

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