Alaskans rally against judge's retention after Schneider plea deal
Alaskans calling on voters to oust an Anchorage Superior Court judge rallied in Downtown Anchorage Saturday.
"We ask that you vote 'no' on Judge Corey because he allowed a man who committed sexual assault to walk free," Elizabeth Williams urged a group of roughly 50 people.
Williams is the chair of 'No More Free Passes', a grassroots movement she started after seeing KTVA's coverage of Justin Schneider's plea deal.
"This campaign is a reaction to a recent sentencing of Justin Schneider, who strangled and assaulted an Alaska Native woman and then walked out of court a free man," Williams said.
Schneider lured a woman into his car in August of 2017 with the promise of a ride to Muldoon. Instead, he then drove her to a dead-end road in a Turnagain neighborhood, where he strangled her unconscious then masturbated on her.
According to court documents, the victim told investigators Schneider said he needed her to think he was going to kill her in order to be sexually fulfilled.
In September, Schneider 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 the agreement, Schneider must receive sex offender treatment and complete three years of probation, but with credit for more than a year served at home on an ankle monitor, he is will not have to spend time incarcerated.
Anchorage District Attorney Andrew Grannik, who prosecuted the case, was not able to reach the victim by phone and the change of plea hearing went on without her.
Judge Michael Corey, whose name will appear on the November 6 ballot for retention, approved the plea agreement.
The story sparked national outrage and calls for the removal of both Corey and Grannik from their positions.
"The justice system was supposed to protect her. She called 911 immediately, she didn't wait. She relayed the license plate. She then picked him out of a line up," said Nicole Borromeo, executive vice president and general counsel for the Alaska Federation of Natives.
"Nothing happened," said Borromeo, speaking at Saturday's rally.
Demonstrators held signs referencing the #MeToo movement and the recent death of 10-year-old Ashley Johnson-Barr of Kotzebue -- and speakers acknowledged the accusations surrounding now Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh.
"This pain that we felt when these judgments came out was paralyzing," said Lisa Wade, a member of the Chickaloon Tribal Council, "Many of us were reliving our own experiences and our trauma that we didn't get justice for."
Wade had a message for Justin Schneider's victim, as well as other victims of sexual assault and violence.
"We're gonna show up for you," she said.
She also had a message for Judge Corey.
"I hope you hear this loud and clear," Wade said. "You may have felt like your hands were tied. Your voice was not silenced like the many Alaska Native women in our community have been silenced."
Borromeo suspects much of the anger toward Corey stems from viewing the video containing his full remarks during the hearing.
"There was no mention of the victim. No mention of the victim. Still to this day, the Criminal Division has rallied around their laws. They said this is a reasonable range for sentencing and they have failed, still, to mention the victim in this case," said Borromeo.
In the sea of protesters, Kieran Braun was a lone supporter, carrying a sign that said "Change the Law, Keep the Judge." A second sign of his read, "Retain Corey. "
"I think it's a dangerous precedent to set that we can let the influence of the public sway a judge's decisions," Braun explained, advocating for a change of Alaska law instead of Corey's removal.
After numerous calls from Alaskans following the initial report on the plea deal, the Department of Law reviewed the case and concluded the sentence was consistent with state law.
The same day, Gov. Bill Walker released a statement calling the outcome of the case "unjust" and vowed to propose legislation to change what he called a loophole in state law.
Schneider was charged with kidnapping, assault, and harassment involving offensive contact with fluids, none of which are considered sexual offenses under state law.
According to Walker's news release, "For at least a decade, causing unwanted contact with semen has not been considered a sex offense under Alaska law."
Saturday, Anchorage District Attorney Richard Allen said his office didn't feel it could prove the kidnapping charge at trial, and based on Schneider's lack of criminal history, he was facing a sentencing range of zero to two years on the assault charge.
"So then basically Mr. Grannik has a choice of a resolution, if he's gonna offer some kind of a resolution. Two years flat in jail would have been one option, or he could do what he did, which was to give the guy two years with one year suspended, and that way he could require the guy to do significant sex offender treatment," explained Allen.
Allen noted that even if the case had gone to trial, the Judge wouldn't have been able to order sex offender treatment as part of Schneider's probation based on the legal loophole.
"The only way we got that is by the agreement of the defendant, so that was basically the calculus that had to come in here: Is it better, knowing that he's gonna get out in a relatively short period of time just because he's zero to two, is it better for him to do time and then be out on the street with no sort of treatment and no supervision, or is it better for him to do some time then be required to do all of his treatment on probation before he's reintegrated into society? And Mr. Grannik, and I agree with him that that was the better course of action, given our options here," Allen said.
In defense of Grannik, Allen called him one of the toughest criminal prosecutors in the state.
Allen is hopeful the proposed legislative fix will be in place soon.
"Any time you have a situation where somebody's sexual gratification is tied to violence against women, that's a serious problem. That's extremely disturbing behavior, and that ought to be a sex offense. That person ought to be registered," Allen said.
Saturday's rally ended with an opportunity for attendees to register to vote, and a promise from organizers to turn words into action.
"We're not gonna let our indigenous women go missing. We're not gonna let them be murdered, assaulted, and we're certainly not gonna let their perpetrators off with a pass," Wade said.
KTVA has reached out to Corey for comment twice, including a request for an interview submitted directly to his chambers this week. A spokeswoman for the Alaska Court System, however, has said that Corey is barred from discussing matters appearing before his court.
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