State responds to complaints about plea deal in strangling case

Friday, October 12, 2018 - 11:09

State attorneys issued a statement Friday expaining a plea deal that allowed a man who strangled and sexually attacked a woman last year in Anchorage to walk free without serving jail time.

In a press release sent by the department’s criminal director John Skidmore, the department said several factors including the limitations of existing state law and Justin Schneider’s lack of a criminal record played into the decision to agree to a plea deal that kept the 34-year-old man out of prison for the August, 2017 attack. The state also said it wouldn’t have been able to prove a kidnapping charge and that Schneider’s conduct — namely masturbating on his victim — didn’t qualify as a sex crime under Alaska law.

The department said the press release was issued in response to concerns from citizens upset with the sentence, and characterized a state prosecutor’s in-court statement that the sentence could be considered “a pass” as “unfortunate and misunderstood.”

Here’s the letter issued Friday:

September 21, 2018

(Anchorage, AK) – On Wednesday, September 19, 2019, Superior Court Judge Michael

Corey sentenced Justin Schneider (3AN-17-06258 CR) to a term of imprisonment of two

years with one year suspended and one year of jail time following his guilty plea to

second-degree assault. Although Mr. Schneider received one year of jail time, Alaska law

allows an offender to receive credit for any time spent on an ankle monitor or under

house arrest against any jail sentence imposed.

The Department of Law heard from a number of concerned citizens that the sentence

imposed was too lenient. Criminal Division Director John Skidmore independently

reviewed the case and concluded the sentence was consistent with, and reasonable, under

current sentencing laws in Alaska.

Mr. Schneider plead guilty to one count of assault in the second degree, a class B felony

in Alaska, in exchange for the State’s dismissal of the remaining charges – notably, first-

degree kidnapping and first-degree harassment. The State dismissed the most serious

charge based on the conclusion that the State would be unable to prove the kidnapping at

trial. Kidnapping requires that the victim be “restrained” or moved against his or her will.

Additional investigation determined that the victim willingly got into Mr. Schneider’s

vehicle and willingly drove with him to the location of the assault. Under these

circumstances, the criminal charge of kidnapping (as defined under Alaska law) could not

be proven beyond a reasonable doubt.

Mr. Schneider was convicted of the remaining most serious crime: second-degree assault.

Based on Mr. Schneider’s lack of criminal history, the sentencing range for the offense

was zero to two years in jail.

“Though it is understandable that some feel his sentence was not sufficiently harsh,”

Director Skidmore explained, “All prosecutors are ethically required to follow the law, no

matter how disturbing the facts may be.”

While the facts of this case were particularly disturbing, Mr. Schneider’s offensive

physical contact with bodily fluid such as semen is not categorized as a sex crime under

Alaska law. Despite this limitation, the prosecutor felt Mr. Schneider needed sex

offender treatment. The only way to achieve that result was to have Mr. Schneider agree

to the probation conditions. Thus, the prosecutor required Mr. Schneider to undergo sex

offender treatment and comply with other monitoring conditions as a condition of the

plea agreement.

During sentencing, the prosecutor explained why the Anchorage District Attorney’s

Office supported the resolution. The word choice used – that is, that some would view the

sentence as a “pass” – was 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 case.

“The aggressive prosecution of violent crime – especially violence against women – has

always been, and remains, a priority for us,” said Director Skidmore. “In this case,

attending sex offender treatment is important. His actions may have not technically

qualified as a sex offense, but it is clearly appropriate under the circumstances and will

hopefully help prevent him from doing more harm in the future.”

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