Corey calls Schneider plea deal ‘horrible’ in Senate testimony
Speaking by phone to the Senate Judiciary Committee, Michael Corey also took aim at people he said have commented on the case “without any regard for accuracy,” suggesting that their actions may also have forced the Schneider case’s victim into the public eye against her will.
Voters ousted Corey from his Superior Court seat in November, after approving a plea deal that left Schneider with no additional jail time after he strangled and masturbated on a woman in 2017. State law at the time didn’t classify that act as a sex offense, which would have left Schneider facing more severe penalties in the case.
Corey has recently made headlines by offering his assistance to improve Senate Bill 12, a bid by Sen. Peter Micciche, R-Soldotna, to fix that legal problem. In an unsolicited call, Corey suggested to Micciche the addition of a requirement that prosecutors consult the victim before offering a plea deal.
After being introduced by Micciche on Monday, Corey – speaking as a private citizen – told senators that the bill has his full backing.
“I support SB 12 because it’s the right thing to do,” Corey said. “Not only internally does it fix the problems that existed, quite frankly if provisions of SB 12 has been in effect at the time Justin Schneider engaged in his actions, we would not have had all of the problems that have followed.”
Now able to speak freely about the Schneider case because of his departure from the judiciary, Corey had harsh words regarding the most virulent of his detractors amid the recall campaign against him in the months before the election.
“I’d also wished quite frankly to be involved in this, to help in some way my former colleagues that remain on the bench – I really would rather no one have to go through what myself and my family had to go through,” he said. “It’s pretty clear there are segments of the population who exploit social media, without any regard for accuracy or without any regard for who they hurt, in the process of seeking some measure of political relevance.”
Corey said a key SB 12 provision, making “offensive contact with semen” a sex crime, would also have affected prosecutor Andrew Grannik’s strategy in the Schneider case. Grannik wasn’t immediately available for comment on Corey’s remarks Monday afternoon.
“If that had been part of the definition of sexual contact prior to Justin Schneider’s activities, there is no way that this plea bargain would have been sought by the prosecutor,” Corey said. “Anybody who knows Mr. Grannik certainly knows that he is not soft on crime, and had this law read this way back then there is no way that this plea arrangement would have been suggested.”
The right of crime victims to their privacy if they choose it was another theme of Corey’s testimony, in response to claims that the prosecution didn’t try hard enough to reach the woman Schneider assaulted. Any claims that judicial officers don’t take respect for victims seriously, Corey said, “is either stated like someone who has their own political aims, or somebody who just doesn’t understand how things work.”
“I think that victims should be allowed to heal in their own way, and that the views of a few perhaps victims themselves should not dictate how other victims have to conduct themselves,” Corey said. “When the prosecutor says, ‘Well, we haven’t been able to make contact’ or haven’t made a call or they didn’t return it, to the average person who doesn’t sit there every day and listen to that they think, ‘Well, my goodness, why the heck didn’t they do more?’ and that may be the case.”
Later in his testimony, Corey specifically mentioned the extent to which Schneider’s victim has shunned the spotlight.
“In this case, everybody talks about this particular victim and how people took up her cause; well, you notice that she still hasn’t come forward, and even the civil lawsuit she brought she brought as Jane Doe,” Corey said. “Now I’m the first person to tell you that those activities are within her rights and they should be respected, but what does that tell you about how anxious that individual was to take the stand and talk about activities in mixed company that she might never have even considered – and that’s before you get to cross-examination?”
Just two lawmakers asked Corey questions Monday including Sen. Bert Stedman, R-Sitka, who asked if the state should “be updating our kidnapping statutes to help in cases like this.” The former judge said the question was beyond his personal experience, but told Stedman that all plea deals involve some degree of compromise – much of which is hidden from public scrutiny.
“In any plea bargain, if you were to compare the probable cause statement with the ultimate plea agreement, people would absolutely be horrified at the delta,” Corey said. “People would constantly say, ‘How in the world could you possibly let this person go with this sanction, when they supposedly did all of these other things?’”
Sen. Bill Wielechowski, D-Anchorage, pressed Corey on Alaska’s kidnapping statute and noted that its penalties can include life in prison. He asked why Corey didn’t reject Schneider’s plea deal and force the prosecution to pursue a case including more prison time for Schneider.
“He tackled her to the ground, began choking her, threatening to kill her, telling her that he was going to kill her,” Wielechowski said. “This clearly meets the definition of kidnapping; it also, I think, clearly meets the definition of attempted murder.”
Corey told Wielechowski that his questions were better directed to Grannik, noting that neither the charges nor the plea deals offered to defendants are determined by judges. He also, however, said that cases like Schneider’s “deeply affect” judicial officers, adding that “just because I’ve followed the law doesn’t mean I think this was a good outcome.”
“Before you get to what happened to me, we’re just talking about what happened to Justin Schneider and particularly what happened to his victim, absolutely this is a horrible result – horrible,” Corey said. “Of course, I can’t very well say that on the bench, now can I? I can’t go in there and I can’t try to throw the Legislature under the bus saying, ‘If only I had these laws, by golly this would look different;’ that is beyond the scope of what a judicial officer does.”
Corey emphasized that as a judge in the case his “hands were tied,” by state law, citing his own recall as proof that its underlying issue extended beyond him personally.
“It seems to me that if I were the problem back then, there’d be no need to change the law,” Corey said. “Well, the answer to that is I was not the problem; the law was the problem and quite frankly, SB 12 fixes that.”
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