Sentencing for a Hoonah man convicted of child rape in 2010 was delayed again Tuesday after the judge referred the decision to a three-judge panel.
Thomas Jack Jr., 40, was arrested in 2009 and convicted by a Juneau jury of six felony counts of sexually assaulting a minor, his 11-year-old foster daughter. He stood trial initially in February 2010, but the jury could not reach a verdict. After a second trial, he was found guilty on all but one count of first-degree sexual abuse of a minor.
Prosecutors had asked for the minimum sentence of 40 years and one day in prison; Jack filed a request that a statewide panel of judges review his case, which could reduce his prison sentence by up to 50 percent.
Former Rep. Cathy Muñoz sparked outrage in the community when she sent a letter last spring to Juneau Superior Court Judge Philip Pallenberg, asking him to consider a lighter sentence for Jack. That letter, along with more than a dozen others in support of Jack, was not mentioned during Tuesday’s hearing.
As Jack was led into the courtroom Tuesday, he smiled and waved with cuffed hands to those he knew in public seating. The room was filled to capacity, mostly with his supporters.
Pallenberg laid out the reasoning behind his decision to send the case to the panel, stressing that he does not believe the presumptive range that would net Jack 40 years is “manifestly unjust.”
Pallenberg noted that Jack, who was 32 at the time, had no significant criminal history and has not had any write-ups since he was incarcerated.
But, said Pallenberg, Jack became a foster parent to the two girls and then “betrayed that trust in the most fundamental way possible.”
The judge noted that many in the community believe Jack is innocent but told the family members in attendance “today is not a day for debating guilt or innocence.”
Pallenberg noted that he continues to believe the guilty verdict was correct, and castigated those who have blamed the victim and ostracized her. The girl had no motive to fabricate her story, the judge said.
“In a way, he is responsible for the way they treated her,” Pallenberg said.
“His supporters believe she lied,” he added. “There is a link between his lack of remorse and the way the child was treated in the community.”
According to court records, the girl and her then 9-year-old sister began living with the Jack family in Hoonah in summer 2007.
In 2008, the Office of Children’s Services received a report from Jack’s wife, which said he had an inappropriate relationship with the oldest child.
The children were taken from the Jack home in December 2008. One month later, during a criminal investigation, the victim told a Juneau Police Department detective that she was sexually abused by Jack for about two months.
Jack and his wife moved from Hoonah to Juneau shortly after the children were taken away; he was living in Juneau when he was charged and convicted. He has continued to maintain his innocence.
The judge noted that the aggregate term would be a minimum of 40 years and one day, with no credit for good behavior. That would keep Jack in prison until well into his 70s, Pallenberg said.
The judge then discussed what factors came into play for a referral to a three-judge panel: a finding that it would be unjust to impose a sentence within the presumptive range of 40 years, or a finding that it would be appropriate to consider a non-statutory mitigating factor.
Pallenberg said he did not think the 40-year sentence was unjust, noting that Jack repeatedly molested the girl over a period of time.
He then turned to a discussion of mitigating factors, which include a consideration that the defendant could be successfully rehabilitated.
Pallenberg noted that a pre-sentencing report gave Jack only a guarded prognosis of rehabilitation, due to his refusal to acknowledge guilt. But Pallenberg said he was bound by a lower threshold established in a 2012 ruling that allows for consideration of “ordinary” potential for rehabilitation, rather than the current standard of “extraordinary potential.”
“The court has no alternative but to refer” to the three-judge panel, Pallenberg said, adding, “I am not able to impose sentence today.”
Assistant District Attorney Angie Kemp said Pallenberg’s decision was expected, explaining that case law is clear that when there is a doubt in regard to sentencing, the judge needs to err on the side of caution.
Kemp said the three-judge panel could hold a new sentencing hearing and will convene in Juneau, hopefully within the next few months. The panel could opt to reduce the possible sentence by 50 percent — to 20 years — but could also opt for up to the maximum possible sentence of 99 years, she said.
“I suspect they would give a lot of weight to the trial court, but there are a lot of unknowns” that affect the potential decision by the panel, Kemp said. “(Pallenberg) certainly made a good record (of his reasoning).”
Diane Bean, the girls’ legal guardian, said the decision was a disappointment.
“We want this behind us, we want to go on with the rest of our lives,” she said.
Bean added, “My greatest disappointment is that (Jack) refused to man up and admit his guilt and thus set his family and friends free. As long as they believe he is innocent, they too are his victims, they too are collateral damage.”