The plea bargain in an Anchorage court case KTVA first covered has not only drawn national headlines and outrage from Alaskans but also reaction from candidates in the governor’s race.

Justin Schneider, 34, walked out of court last Wednesday after changing his plea in the case of a brazen midday assault in which charging documents say he offered a woman a ride, then strangled her unconscious and masturbated on her. 

An Anchorage grand jury indicted Schneider on four felony charges including kidnapping and assault, and one misdemeanor count of Harassment I--offensive contact with fluids -- for the August 2017 incident. 

He 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.

But after the sentencing last week in Anchorage Superior Court, Schneider was free to leave the courtroom. Judge Michael Corey suspended one year of his sentence and gave him credit for one year of house arrest – and as long as Schneider doesn’t violate his conditions of parole, he won’t serve any extra time.

Candidates on KTVA’s Frontiers election series say this shouldn’t have happened.

Governor Bill Walker, who is running as an independent candidate, says if he is re-elected, he will close the loophole in the law. 

Walker said the 2010 law that Schneider was sentenced under wasn’t designed to address the type of sex crime he committed, so justice wasn’t served.

Walker says it’s unfortunate that problems with laws often aren’t discovered until the sentencing phase of the trial.

“The key is you fix them when they’re there. You also continue to look where else there are loopholes,” said Walker.  

Mark Begich, the Democrat in the race, said he doesn’t believe the penalty for Schneider was harsh enough, but the problems with the justice system go beyond this one particular case.

“It is a systemic problem. It has collapsed. You have problems in rural Alaska, urban Alaska. You have places that have never seen crime like it has been,” said Begich, who puts some of the blame on lawmakers and the battle over SB91.

“They’ve taken their eye off the ball. What they’ve done is played petty politics in Juneau over a piece of legislation, instead of focused on the bigger problem,” Begich said.

Mike Dunleavy, the Republican candidate in the race, declined to take part in the Frontiers election series, but through a statement from his campaign, said he would also close the loophole through legislation.

KTVA’s Rhonda McBride will feature one-on-one interviews with the candidates on her Frontiers program, starting first with Gov. Bill Walker on Sunday, Sept. 30, then followed by a program with Mark Begich on Sunday, Oct. 7.

Frontiers airs on Sundays at 5:00 p.m. on KTVA-Channel 11, but can also be seen on GCI’s Cable Channel 907 at 8:30 a.m. and 10:30 p.m. on Sunday.

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