Gov. Bill Walker is responding to public outrage over the recent sentencing of an Anchorage man by vowing to “fix a loophole” in Alaska’s criminal law.
Late Friday, Walker pledged to propose changes to state statutes governing sex crimes. The move comes two days after Justin Schneider, 34, walked out of an Anchorage courtroom with no jail time following a plea deal. The issue was first reported by KTVA-TV.
Last year, Schneider was charged with attacking and strangling an Anchorage woman unconscious after an assault in broad daylight. After the assault, he masturbated on her, spraying his semen across her body, before offering her a tissue and leaving. The tissue was collected as evidence, and the woman promptly reported the crime, which was witnessed by a bystander.
Schneider faced four felony charges and one misdemeanor, but under a deal with prosecutors, he pleaded guilty to only one felony assault charge in exchange for having all the other charges dropped.
He was sentenced to two years in prison with one suspended, but because he received credit for time served while wearing an ankle monitor and living under house arrest, he left the courthouse with no additional time to serve. In addition, Schneider is not required to register as a sex offender.
That conclusion outraged Anchorage residents, who promptly began a campaign to vote Judge Michael Corey — who oversaw the case — out of office.
The situation was aggravated when Anchorage Assistant District Attorney Andrew Grannik said at the sentencing, “I would like the gentleman to be on notice that that is his one pass — it’s not really a pass — but given the conduct, one might consider that it is.”
On Friday morning, the Alaska Department of Law issued a lengthy statement explaining that Schneider’s sentence was “consistent with, and reasonable, under current sentencing laws in Alaska.”
The statement added that the prosecutor’s words were “unfortunate and misunderstood. The prosecutor was attempting to explain that while the agreed-upon sentence seemed lenient, it was consistent with current Alaska law and based on a thorough review of the facts of (the) case.”
Six hours after the Department of Law issued its statement, Walker provided one of his own.
“Every victim deserves justice. This sort of outcome makes it even more difficult for victims to come forward. The punishment in this case in no way matched the severity of the crime,” he said in prepared remarks. “We must fix this problem immediately, and we will.”
“Any reasonable person would think the disturbing and offensive actions of Mr. Schneider qualify as a sex offense,” Attorney General Jahna Lindemuth said in prepared remarks released with Walker’s words. “The law needs to be fixed.”
Walker had already been scheduled to present a public update on the progress of his crime-fighting plan, and that update will now include a proposal for new legislation that “makes causing unwanted contact with semen a sex offense.”
According to the governor’s statement, the penalty for that offense would be jail time of 2-12 years and mandatory registration as a sex offender.
Walker’s three opponents in the November general election also offered their thoughts on the case following the governor’s announcement.
In a prepared statement texted to the Empire, Republican Mike Dunleavy said, “This injustice is an outrage, particularly in Alaska where women suffer from horrific rates of violence. I’ll support legislation to close this loophole, whether it’s this bill or another. The women of Alaska deserve better.”
Democratic candidate Mark Begich posted a video on his Facebook page, saying, “I’m as upset and outraged as you are about what happened in that case.”
He went on to criticize Dunleavy and Walker for their crime-fighting plans, adding, “but what’s more outrageous is what these two have done. When you look at Sen. Dunleavy, he quit after he cut the prosecutors and the court system … and what has the governor done? He’s had four years.”
In an email, Libertarian Billy Toien wrote that the events were “an absolute disgrace. Of course, Judge Corey needs to be off the bench immediately.”
Toien also said by phone that he has significant problems with plea bargaining because prosecutors can overload criminal suspects with charges in an attempt to intimidate Alaskans unfamiliar with the criminal justice system. Under intimidation, innocent people might plead guilty to avoid the consequences of a failed defense.
Toien said that isn’t what happened here.
“When one is guilty of truly heinous acts, it is the duty of justice to be swift and severe. In this case, it was neither.”
• Contact reporter James Brooks at firstname.lastname@example.org or 523-2258.