Stacey Graham to be resentenced in teens' DUI deaths
The man who killed two 15-year-old Anchorage girls while driving drunk, in a case that drove a local backlash against fatal DUI collisions, has been ordered to receive a new sentence after an appellate court found that "retribution" drove the original judge.
In a Friday decision, the Alaska Court of Appeals rejected Superior Court Judge Kevin Saxby's 32-year sentence for Stacey Graham in the August 2013 deaths of Jordyn Durr and Brooke McPheters. The court is remanding the case back to the Superior Court for a re-sentencing by a different judge.
The Court of Appeals decided that Saxby made procedural errors in Graham's sentencing hearing, which included emotional videos, music and testimony from APD officers.
The crash happened as McPheters and Durr were walking home from the Dimond Center mall after a back-to-school shopping trip. Graham's pickup truck hit the girls on a walking path at the corner of Abbott Road and 88th Avenue, where a memorial is set up for the two teens.
Both girls' mothers condemned the ruling Friday.
"A bunch of crap," said Brooke's mother, Shanna McPheters, who now lives in Las Vegas.
Jordyn's mother, Dayna Durr, said she was sitting in her office "sobbing."
"I'm not thinking rationally right now," she said.
Assistant District Attorney Daniel Shorey, who prosecuted the case against Graham, said the ruling was a result of the judicial system's ongoing work.
"I feel really bad for the families but Mr. Graham is exercising his constitutional and statutory rights," Shorey said.
There was no trial because Graham agreed to a plea deal, admitting to committing two counts of second-degree murder.
According to the Court of Appeals, Graham was subject to a sentence of between 13 and 20 years on each count, to be served consecutively making his sentence a range of 26 to 40 years. Saxby sentenced Graham to serve 32 years, a prison term Graham claimed was excessive.
The Court of Appeals' ruling specifically doesn't address whether the sentence is excessive.
"We do this because we conclude that key facts of the judge's sentencing analysis were legally mistaken, and also because the judge's decision appears to have been influenced by the principal of retribution – something that Alaska law does not allow," the decision read.
The court discussed the state Legislature's attempts to eliminate "unjustified disparity in sentences" and instead impose "reasonable uniformity." The ruling elaborated on Graham's sentence, which the plea bargain required he serve at least 26 years.
"This minimum sentence was equal to the highest sentence ever approved by this Court or by the Alaska Supreme Court for a non-assaultive vehicular homicide (that is, for a vehicular homicide where the defendant did not deliberately use their vehicle as a weapon)," the decision read. "And it was substantially higher than any sentence approved for a drunk-driving homicide committed by a defendant who (like Graham) had no prior convictions."
Graham's attorney argued that presentations by the victims' families at the sentencing, including about 30 minutes of video featuring photos of McPheters and Durr set to emotional music, went beyond what is allowed by state law. Graham's defense attorney objected to the video montages, but was overruled by Saxby.
"In his ruling, the judge did not address the emotional content of the proposed presentations," Friday's decision read. "Instead, the judge treated the matter as simply a question of whether crime victims were entitled to use computer technology when making their presentation to the court."
Anchorage's police chief at the time, Mark Mew, testified at the hearing, calling on Saxby to deter future drunk drivers with his ruling.
"The sentence you hand down today should be severe enough to scare the eleven worst drunks in Anchorage into not driving," the ruling quotes Mew as saying.
Then-APD Sgt. John McKinnon, who informed the McPheters and Durr families that their daughters had been killed, also spoke.
"I was so disgusted at how our community was, again, being victimized by alcohol," McKinnon was quoted as saying in the court's ruling. "It was later that night that I learned Stacey Graham ... was going to make a full recovery from his injuries. I couldn't stand to think he was relaxing in a comfortable hospital bed while these two children had been slain."
Graham's attorney objected to the police statements, saying they would only "add to an element of passion to hearing."
"Here, the record shows that the judge gave free rein to speaker after speaker who played to the judge's emotions, and the judge's sentencing remarks suggest that retribution was indeed one of the judge's motivations for imposing an unprecedented sentence in Graham's case," the appellate decision read. "Based on this record, we conclude that Graham's re-sentencing should be handled by a different judge."
Shorey questioned that characterization of Saxby.
"From my perspective, Judge Saxby did not let the emotions get the best of him," Shorey said. "Mr. Graham agreed to a sentencing range and Judge Saxby sentenced him at the lower end of that agreed-upon range."
Shorey says Graham's attorneys and the state Department of Law will have to decide whether they want to petition the Alaska Supreme Court to review the ruling. He says if the Supreme Court takes the case, it could be a year or two before it would actually make a ruling.
If the Supreme Court does not take the case, then Shorey says it will go back to Superior Court for re-sentencing, where it could take three to four months to set up a status hearing. He says a possible date for a new sentence hearing would be several months away.
The ruling does not impact Graham's conviction, just the re-sentencing phase. He remains in custody.
KTVA attempted to contact Saxby and public defenders, but has yet to hear back.
Copyright KTVA 2019. All rights reserved.
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