Appeals court upholds sentence for man who vandalized Kodiak church in 2015
The state Court of Appeals sided with an Alaska Supreme Court ruling that Arkimedes Garcia's actions were "among the most serious" when he vandalized a Russian Orthodox church. A court opinion from Jan. 9, 2019 also affirmed the lower courts findings for the man's conviction to stay on his permanent record.
In June 2015, then 21-year-old Garcia broke into the Holy Resurrection Cathedral in Kodiak and within minutes caused more than $109,000 in damage to church property and items of religious significance in the church.
"But the greater cost to the church and its parishioners was the nonmonetary (sic) harm caused by the desecration of sacred items, some of which could not be replaced or fully repaired," the court opinion states.
He was sentenced to 3 years in jail with 18 months suspended, 3 years probation and ordered to pay $60,000 restitution.
Garcia appealed his sentence, arguing the trial court wrongly found that his actions were among the most serious for the offense. He also claimed he should not have been denied a suspended imposition of sentence, which is a special judgment where a defendant's conviction can be "set aside" if they've complied with probation conditions.
The court opinion states Garcia is religious and raised a devout Catholic. Furthermore, two weeks before the incident, Garcia suffered a head trauma during a professional mixed martial arts fight.
"Both Garcia's employer and a close friend reported that Garcia's behavior changed dramatically after the fight. He became increasingly erratic and uncharacteristically antagonistic; he was also abusing alcohol and marijuana," the document reads.
When he was arrested, he was partially clothed and sweating profusely, the court document reads. Garcia tested positive for marijuana use. The man injured himself during the incident, according to the opinion, leaving blood in the altar room and near the entry doors.
Garcia said the superior court did not account for "mitigating aspects of his conduct," that his actions were out of character, not malicious and possibly caused by his head injury. However, the appellate court found the lower court did take these into account, stating:
"We agree with Garcia that there were mitigating aspects to his conduct. But the record shows that the sentencing court acknowledged these mitigating factors and concluded that they were greatly outweighed by the nature of Garcia’s destructive acts, the monetary damage to the church, and the larger impact of those acts on the local church community and the Russian Orthodox faithful worldwide. Having carefully reviewed the evidence presented at the three-day bench trial and the superior court’s detailed factual findings, we conclude that the court’s findings are supported by the record and that the court's overall legal analysis is sound. We therefore uphold the superior court's finding that Garcia's conduct was 'among the most serious' included in the definition of the offense."
KTVA reported most of the damage happened near the altar.
“Because we consider that a sacred area, that’s something that really hits the heart. In the past month, I’ve seen hurt and pain from other people who have suffered through it and it’s caused me to hurt where I didn’t hurt at first,” parishioner Christine Dresdow said at the time.
The church’s insurance company said in 2015 that damage estimates didn't include priceless items, like St. Herman’s cross, which dates back to the 1700s and was worn in secret by the saint underneath his garments while he lived in Alaska. The base of the cross is forever bent to the right.
Rev. Innocent Dresdow testified for four hours at the trial, KTVA reported. He said it was impossible to put a value on the religious artifacts damaged at his church and that his time on the stand was a “very sobering experience.”
In a footnote of the opinion, Father Innocent is mentioned to have testified that the church had 175 regular members and between 700 to 800 parishioners in the greater community of Kodiak.
In regard to whether the conviction should remain on his record, the appeals court review was limited to evaluating whether the trial court's decision was "clearly mistaken." The superior court decided that the seriousness of the crime and extent of the damages outweighed Garcia's high probability for rehabilitation and the small likelihood that a similar incident would happen again. Following their independent review, the appeals court opinion stated the superior court was not clearly mistaken in its ruling.
Garcia also appealed one of his conditions of probation, but received early discharge. The court's opinion noted the change and stated this challenge was "therefore moot" and did not address it.
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