Walker, Lindemuth seek to close sexual offense loophole
Gov. Bill Walker's office on Friday announced plans to introduce legislation that would close a loophole, which fails to criminalize unwanted contact with semen.
Walker and Attorney General Jahna Lindemuth said in an afternoon statement that they plan to roll out the legislation as part of a larger public safety plan by Oct. 1.
The announcement comes two days after an Anchorage man's felony assault sentence comes under heavy and growing scrutiny that's even led for calls to remove sentencing Anchorage Superior Court Judge Michael Corey from the bench.
John Skidmore, director of Alaska’s Criminal Division, said he reviewed the August 2017 incident in which court documents say the man offered a ride to a woman, then strangled her unconscious and masturbated on her.
Indicted on four felony charges, Justin Schneider, 34, on Wednesday, struck a deal with the state, pleading guilty to a single felony assault charge in exchange for a sentence of two years with one suspended.
Under state law, Schneider received credit for time served while wearing an ankle monitor under house arrest. He faces no additional jail time and walked out of court a free man.
The Department of Law said in a news release, it “heard from a number of concerned citizens that the sentence imposed was too lenient,” prompting Skidmore to review the case and sentence.
Skidmore concluded the sentence to be, "consistent with current Alaska law and based on a thorough review of the facts of (the) case."
“Though it is understandable that some feel his sentence was not sufficiently harsh, all prosecutors are ethically required to follow the law, no matter how disturbing the facts may be,” Skidmore said in the release Friday morning.
Later in an interview, Skidmore said it's not uncommon for his office to review outcomes, sometimes at the behest of public concerns.
I've seen cases in the past that get a lot of public attention and when the public doesn't like the outcome in a case they are not shy about reaching out and expressing their frustrations," Skidmore said. "So have I seen reaction before of this level? The answer is yes. Do we see reactions of this level frequently? the answer is no."
Skidmore also said in an interview that he met Friday morning with Walker and Lindemuth to discuss a loophole this case brought to light.
"The facts of the case are pretty horrendous; people don't like the conduct that Mr. Schneider engaged in and the fact that Alaska law really didn't have statutes to address it, is pretty alarming," Skidmore said in an interview. "I hope the legislation that the governor and that attorney general suggest passes so that if he did do anything in the future, the consequences would be far more severe."
As part of Schneider's plea deal, the state dropped remaining charges, including first-degree kidnapping and first-degree harassment. Skidmore said prosecutors dismissed the most serious charge after determining they could not prove kidnapping at trial.
According to the release, kidnapping statutes require that victims be restrained or moved against their will. Investigators determined that the woman willingly got into Schneider’s SUV and accompanied him to the assault location.
As a result, criminal kidnapping charges, per state law, could not be proven beyond a reasonable doubt, the department said. The plea deal also requires Schneider to undergo sex offender treatment and comply with additional monitoring.
"What is really important about this though is that the offenses for which he was charged and convicted, he could not have received sex offender treatment," Skidmore said in an interview. The judge would not under the law have been authorized to impose sex offender treatment on him, but what we did in this case is we got him to agree to those conditions anyway."
Schneider's case has also sparked social media outrage toward Corey, who approved the plea deal. Corey is on the ballot for the upcoming general election.
A Facebook group, No retention for Judge Michael Corey had more than 1,200 followers by late Friday. It had planned to organize a meeting at a downtown Anchorage coffee shop but the number expressing interest exceeded capacity, so the organizers were looking for a new place.
Corey has been on the bench since former Gov. Sean Parnell appointed him. The Alaska Judicial Council backed Corey's re-appointment.
In the Council's questionnaire, Corey wrote in part: "I believe that my most significant contribution to our judiciary is my ability to meaningfully communicate with most everyone who enters the courtroom. I understand that all but a few individuals spend very little time there and the surroundings can be intimidating. My intent is to treat everyone with dignity and respect. My hope is that all who appear in the courtroom over which I officiate depart feeling as though
they were heard."
Shannon Ballard contributed to this report.
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