At times over the past decade, it’s seemed like the case of Thomas Jack Jr. would never end.
While it’s still not done, a Wednesday hearing yielded a major decision in the case.
In 2009, Jack was arrested and charged with sexually assaulting his then 11-year-old foster daughter. After multiple trials, a jury convicted Jack in 2010 for six counts of sexual assault of a minor. In 2016, Juneau Superior Court Judge Philip M. Pallenberg sentenced Jack to 40 years and one day in prison.
On Wednesday, Pallenberg upheld that sentence, choosing not to refer the case to a three-judge panel of judges to reconsider the sentence. It would have been the second time the case went in front of a three-judge panel, as a panel referred the case back to Superior Court earlier this year. According to an amendment in Alaska Statute 12.55.165, one of the only reasons a judge can refer a sexual assault case to a three-judge panel if the defendant has an “extraordinary” chance of rehabilitation.
During his ruling Wednesday, Pallenberg said he’s spent a great deal of time considering this case and said one major factor led him to believe Jack was not a good candidate for rehabilitation.
“I thought that if Mr. Jack came here today and acknowledged his wrongdoing and accepted responsibility, I think it would be a difficult question whether to make the referral,” Pallenberg said. “I’m not saying I would make the referral if he did that, but I think it would be a difficult decision.”
Pallenberg wasn’t the only one interested in what Jack had to say Wednesday. The adopted mother of the victim was present over the phone, and could be heard softly sobbing as it became clear that Pallenberg was going to uphold the sentence. Earlier in the hearing, District Attorney Angie Kemp read a statement from the sister of the victim.
“No matter what happens today in the courtroom, I wanted you, out of all people, to know that from the bottom of my heart, I forgive you,” the statement read. “That’s not just for you. It’s for me, so that I can finally move on, free my soul and live the life I should have been living all along and be the person I truly am.”
Afterward, Kemp said the victim was less concerned about what the sentence was and more concerned with whether Jack would apologize.
Jack, 42, did not acknowledge or apologize. He spoke for about 80 seconds, thanking Pallenberg for his conduct throughout proceedings and thanking his defense attorney, Richard Payne, for being “creative” and respectful in his defense.
“Other than that, due to the continuation of my appeals and through counsel, that’s all I will be saying today,” Jack said.
Jack’s statement was one indication that this case is far from over. Kemp, who has previously called this “the case that never ends,” said she’s “certain that there will be more appeals.”
Earlier this year, the case went to a three-judge panel for reconsideration but the trio of judges referred the case back to Pallenberg, saying that this case was not appropriate for a review. They tasked Pallenberg with either finding a reason to refer it back to a three-judge panel or to uphold the 40-year sentence.
During Pallenberg’s ruling, he acknowledged that 40 years is an “extraordinarily long time,” but said the Alaska Legislature set the sentencing range and he’s just following it. In 2006, the Legislature increased sentence lengths for sexual assault convictions because of the presumption that if someone has committed one sexual assault they’ve likely committed others that have not been reported.
In 2012, the Alaska Supreme Court ruled that courts could not make this presumption. Just a few months later, the Legislature overturned that ruling.
The case caused a rift in the small village of Hoonah where the offense took place, and gained a statewide audience when news came out that then-Rep. Cathy Muñoz, R-Juneau had submitted a letter to Pallenberg, asking him to consider a lighter sentence for Jack.
Payne was arguing vehemently in court Wednesday that Jack has shown that he’s a good person based on his behavior during his time in prison. Jack is willing to enter sex offender treatment, Payne said, but hasn’t been able to access it yet because the Department of Corrections hasn’t made it available. Megan Edge, a DOC spokesperson, said that sex offender treatment is prioritized by an inmate’s release date. Those with two or fewer years left to serve are top priority, she said.
Pallenberg response to Payne’s assertions was accompanied by historical humor.
“There’s an expression that’s sometimes used to refer to a situation, ‘Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play?’” Pallenberg said. “I don’t mean this to sound callous or cruel, but the argument, and these aren’t the words Mr. Payne used, but the argument essentially is that Mr. Jack is a good person other than the foster child he molested.”