Confusion in court stalls years-old case
Confusion in an Anchorage courtroom Thursday means another delay in a case that’s nearly four years old.
Ashley Ard was a soldier stationed in Alaska in October of 2013. That’s when she’s accused of giving birth to a baby without the help of medical professionals, then leaving the newborn in an Eagle River park to die.
She appeared in court to change her plea from not guilty to guilty of manslaughter, but the deal stalled when attorneys on both sides of the case disagreed on the range of punishment she should face.
Defense attorney George Dozier, representing Ard in the courtroom, told the judge Alaska’s new crime laws are on his client’s side, “We believe that under SB 91, it is now three to six [years].”
District Attorney Clint Campion says before SB 91 became law, the mandatory minimum for manslaughter was seven to 11 years. It’s now five to nine. He says under SB 91, a typical class A felony has a mandatory minimum of three years, but aggravating factors, which include death and the vulnerable nature of the victim, a newborn, boost the mandatory minimum to five years and allow the judge to set a maximum sentence of 20 years.
Attorney Rex Butler, in charge of Ard’s defense, says he agrees with the maximum of 20 years, but says, “We still believe the starting point is three.”
“Our position is that it’s five years,” said Campion.
In court, Dozier told the judge, “This was presented to Miss Ard as a three to six presumptive range. That’s what she based her decision on.”
He asked for a new court date so Ard can thoroughly understand and consider the terms of the plea deal prosecutors are offering.
“Sometimes both sides just need to sit down and say, ‘We understand this,'” said Butler, who feels confident they’ll reach an agreement.
Campion says for a case to drag out as long as this one has is “not normal”, and most of the delays have been litigation related to mental health evaluations.
“I’ll say publicly, it’s not acceptable for there to be a four-year delay. It’s not what we strive for in any of these cases.”
He said the lesson he hopes the public takes away from learning about Ard’s case is that safe haven laws are in place to protect infants and mothers from a similar situation. People can take babies to places like police and fire stations and hospitals to give them up safely.
When asked how Ard is doing, Butler said, “She’s hanging in there.”
Ard’s next court appearance is set for August 31.