'No justice' even as adoptive mother receives max sentence in abuse case
An Anchorage woman accused of abusing several adopted foster children in her hillside home for years received the maximum sentence in a plea deal Thursday, but it's unclear how much time, if any, she'll actually spend incarcerated.
Five of 57-year-old Anya James' victims were in court for the continuation of the sentencing hearing. One of them told the judge, "She treated us like we were mental patients or animals. Subhuman."
The victims, now grown adults, say James kept them isolated by pulling them out of school, kept them in a cold basement in her hillside home, starved them, forced them to use a bucket instead of a toilet, used haircuts and stripping them naked as punishments, kept memory items like photos of their biological parents under lock and key; forced them to choose new names.
A prosecuting attorney described the acts as, "A shocking throwback to systems of oppression really resigned to the darker chapters of American history."
She also called the case a representation of betrayal of trust since 2011, saying, "The state trusted the defendant to care for these children and she betrayed that trust. The children themselves trusted the defendant to care for them, she betrayed that trust. The public trusted the government to oversee and protect children in state custody, and the victims, back in 2011, put their trust in the justice system, with their constitutional right that a timely disposition of this case would be honored."
When it was her opportunity to speak, James remained silent.
Superior Court Judge Michael Wolverton excused himself for a 10-minute recess, then came back and handed down the sentence the state asked for, after making comments of his own.
"I've been doing this for 40 years this year, and you think your trial notebook is filled up, and then you add a page like this one," said Judge Wolverton.
"This is some of the most deeply disturbing, Machiavellian behavior I've ever seen," he said, adding, "These were mean, vicious, carefully plotted, cruel crimes."
He also spoke to the victims, commending them on their ability to speak in court and offer forgiveness to James, and saying, "I want to apologize to you."
The case, filed in 2011, took more than six years to come to a resolution. James was initially charged with 16 felonies, all dropped by the state in exchange for a guilty plea, to two lesser, class C felony charges of endangering the welfare of a child.
Wolverton sentenced James to five years on each count, with one suspended, to run consecutively. That equates to eight years of hard time-- but that's where things get murky.
James will be given credit for time served on an ankle monitor for the past six-plus years, even though she was allowed to drive, work, and got weekly four hour passes to handle personal business during that time.
She left the courtroom un-cuffed after the sentencing and will have to turn herself in on December 4 to serve out the remainder of her sentence, however long that is, once the Department of Corrections does the math.
After researching the effect of SB91, Alaska's controversial crime reform law, on the case Thursday, an attorney with the Alaska Office of Victim Rights told KTVA in an email:
"The effect in Anya James case is that she will receive more jail credit for time spent on an electronic monitor after SB91 took effect than for time she spent on an electronic monitor pre-SB91."
"This state is messed up, the system is messed up, the fact that it took six and a half years to even get here is messed up. There is no justice," said Solomon "Tommy" James, one of the victims, following the hearing.
He said he appreciated the judge's heartfelt apology, but the system has failed him and his adoptive siblings once again.
"I think she should have already gotten the death penalty and I think she should've been hung from the highest tree in Anchorage," he said.
Despite having strong words, the victims have said they're starting to find forgiveness for James, something judge Wolverton said impressed him.
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