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Tribal 'court' banishes Alaskan pizza bandits

IN AN episode owing more to Hollywood than history, a makeshift court of Alaskan Indians has sentenced two youths to banishment on separate uninhabited islands because they attacked a pizza deliveryman and robbed him of dollars 40.

After a two-day hearing, a council of elders on Alaska's Prince of Wales Island said the youths would spend more than a year in isolation to atone for their crimes. The affair began when, to the fury of prosecutors, a judge in the state of Washington returned the two 17-year-old Tlingit Indians to face tribal justice rather than dispatch them to jail.

The unprecedented decision followed pleas by Rudy James, whose claims to be a tribal judge have been challenged by established representatives of Alaska's 14,000 Tlingits. They say that his 'tribal court' has never met before.

This was evident from its proceedings, in a dilapidated hall in the fishing village of Klawock. Clad in ill-fitting tribal gear, Adrian Guthrie and Simon Roberts faced vague and incomprehensible questions from a 'court' of 12 ageing men. One wanted to know what topping was on the pizza.

Mr James, who plans a movie documentary, says they will spend 12 to 18 months on two forested islands in south-east Alaska, equipped with basic tools and food.

Most Alaskans are sceptical about the judgment. 'Anyone can get to these places by boat. Their pals will be out there every night, drinking beer and smoking dope,' said an elderly white fisherman. But one person approves: the injured pizzaman, who has been promised a new house by Mr James. 'Better than our system,' he said, after watching the court.