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Juvenile murderer set free by Alaska Supreme Court

WE CANNOT HAVE LAWMAKERS WHO ARE SOFT ON VIOLENT CRIME

By TAMERA LIENHART

I was troubled by the recent news story about the young man who served only five years in a youth facility for the premeditated murder of two members of his family — two Anchorage women.  

He was three months shy of his 16th birthday when he committed these cold-blooded murders. Read the story, hear the reports: He killed these innocent women because they were, “nagging” him. 

Had he been 16, he would have been tried as an adult and prosecuted for the violent and brutal actions that took the lives of two innocent and defenseless women.  The victims who should have been safe in their own home were killed.

I follow cases such as these because of what happened to my family in 1985.  Three of my family members, my grandparents and great aunt were murdered in their own home by a 14-year-old and her 19-year-old boyfriend. They were senseless murders; these juveniles had always wanted to kill someone and faked a car problem to get in the house to use the phone.

Following these murders, the way the laws were written wouldn’t protect our family, it protected the criminals, the people who altered our lives forever. 

We were treated by the criminal justice system nothing short of, well, criminal.  We weren’t allowed into proceedings, could not testify, and were generally told to sit down and be quiet.

It’s awful to think that many laws are created through the shedding of innocent blood. A lot has changed since 1985, in Alaska much of it due to my mother and Aunt, who formed Victims for Justice.  They gave a voice to other victims and a movement started; a movement where victims found the courage to speak up about the rapes and murders that happened to them, and how it impacted their lives – forever. 

This victims’ rights movement led to substantial policy changes in Alaska.  In 1994, the Victims’ Rights Amendment to the Constitution of Alaska was passed overwhelmingly by the voters of Alaska.  It guaranteed certain rights to victims and laid out how the basic tenets of the criminal justice system should be administered.  Article I, Section 24, reads:

“Criminal Administration shall be based upon the following: the need for protecting the public, community condemnation of the offender, the rights of crime victims, restitution from the offender, and the principle of reformation”

All five of these tenets are constitutionally equal, so we cannot place the rights of victims, the community, public safety or restitution below the rights of the criminal.

Also, in 1994, the Legislature overwhelmingly passed a bill known as the “Automatic Juvenile Waiver.”  Prior to 1994, the State had to prove that juveniles could not be rehabilitated in order to send them to adult court.

However, a series of brutal crimes committed by juveniles, including my grandparents, shocked the conscience of the community so much that legislation amending the criminal code was adopted by the Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Walter J. Hickel.

Under the automatic waiver, a 16- or 17-year-old is automatically charged as an adult if the crime they are accused of is an “unclassified” or “Class-A” felony.  These are crimes against a person -– rape, murder, manslaughter, etc. 

They do not include shoplifting, or property crimes, crimes normally associated with juvenile delinquents.

For Class-A and Unclassified felonies committed by juveniles under 16, the State can petition to move to adult court and there is a separate hearing for this process.  

In 2014, I happened to be in Juneau for work and discovered that the Legislature was working to overturn the automatic waiver provision.  Given the work my family and many other victims have given to open the system to victims, I was troubled by the discussion of rolling back the progress victims of crime had made.

As it turns out, several legislators working with an out-of-state lobby firm were advocating to eliminate the automatic waiver.

At a hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Chuck Kopp, then staff to Sen. Fred Dyson, made the pitch to the committee to overturn Alaska’s automatic waiver statutes.  It was sold as a simple amendment to a larger bill. There was no fanfare, no studies, no advertisement to the public.  

Thankfully, the committee did not pass the amendment.  Had they done so, the recent case involving the juvenile who served five years in a youth center would have become the tip of the iceberg for releasing violent juvenile offenders back into the community, with little notice to the public, given the secrecy surrounding juvenile proceedings.

For example, the four vicious teenage criminals who murdered David Grunwald (a case that made headlines for several years) would still be petitioning the court to be treated as juveniles, while David’s friends and family members wind up in seemingly never-ending court battles before a trial can even start.

Senate Bill 91 was a complete slap in the face to all families who have suffered a tragic loss by the choice of others as victims of crime in Alaska.  I am thankful that the Legislature amended many of the provisions, but I am still troubled that during its passage, the voice of victims was muted once again.  

We’ve made so much progress to make Alaska a safer place.  We have to choose leaders who give more than lip service to the rights and situations of victims.  All candidates say they are in favor of helping victims, but as I saw during the attempt to overturn the automatic waiver, sadly what they say and what they do can be entirely different.

As I write this, the same group that gave us SB91 (The Alaska Criminal Justice Commission) is discussing how to overturn the automatic waiver of violent 16 and 17-year-olds, just like the recent case of the murderer who was released after just 5 years for brutally killing two innocent people.  

So I plea, when a candidate or sitting legislator comes by your house asking for your vote, ask them what they think about releasing young criminals who have murdered or violently raped someone, do they need to held accountable or do you support a simple slap on the wrist.

These are real issues that have the possibility of impacting each one of us, we need leaders not afraid to stand up for what is right.

Past MRAK column by justice writer Tamera Liehhart:

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Suzanne Downing had careers in business and journalism before serving as the Director of Faith and Community-based Initiatives for Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and returning to Alaska to serve as speechwriter for Gov. Sean Parnell. Born on the Oregon coast, she moved to Alaska in 1969.

Latest comments

  • Juveniles who commit monstrous felonies should not be released simply because they turn 21. There should be a process to determine if that former juvenile and felon is rehabilitated to join society. If he was a gang banger and a thug along with a murderer, and learned nothing in jail other than how to do a prison tat or new gang signs, then they aren’t ready to rejoin society. they may never be able to rejoin society but it has to be on a case-by-case basis.

  • Contrary to what some would have us believe, Alaska and the USA are suffering from an “under incarceration” problem. If people are not punished when they fail to adhere to societal norms, we will have a situation where it’s every man/woman for themselves.

  • Tamera Lienhart’s article accurately points out the legal challenges that existed in dealing with violent crimes committed by juveniles in the 80’s. I know because I was a judge at the time. Juvenile proceedings were confidential and victims of their criminal behavior along with most all
    others were prohibited from being present during court proceedings. The victims had little say about anything, even though they were the most impacted by the criminal conduct.
    When Tamera’s grandparents and an aunt were brutally murdered in their home by Winnona Fletcher and Cordell Boyd, the law prohibited family from attending the court proceedings involving Fletcher who at the time was 14 years old.

    I presided over the hearing to determine whether she should be treated as an adult, rather than a juvenile. The difference would determine whether, if found guilty, she would be eligible to be sentenced in prison for up to life, or treated as a juvenile and be released from
    a juvenile facility when she was 21. After hearing much evidence about the nature of her conduct and the prospects for her rehabilitation, I ruled she should be tried in adult court where she was ultimately found guilty of First Degree Murder.

    Meanwhile family members of the three seniors who were murdered, and whom were denied access to the process, Janice Lienhart and Sharon Nahorney created “Victims for Justice”.

    That organization started a movement that changed the rules and allowed greater victim participation in all aspects of criminal prosecution of criminal defendants, especially juveniles. V for J became a real force in pushing the legislature to pass laws giving victims more say in how juveniles were to be treated when they committed violent crimes. It also became a force to be reckoned with when it came down to the selection and retention of judges. Lienhart and Nahorney worked tirelessly to successfully make this organization recognized as essential to determining the proper disposition of criminal proceedings.

    Victims now had a serious voice in how violent crimes affected them and the community. Where once they were overlooked, laws were passed providing for their participation. It became a very relevant and indeed a powerful organization designed to
    protect victims. All thanks to the two women who suffered the horrible loss of their mother, father and Aunt , but who refused to accept draconian rules that prohibited them from having a meaningful role in the justice system.
    Tamera is justifiably proud of her mother and aunt.

  • Shameful! Just another reason to exercise you 2nd amendment rights.

  • So any of you know God and all the sins He has forgiven you by the ultimate sacrifice of His only begotten son. ALL have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. Yet, we are justified by grace as a gift – if we accept it – by the redemption of Jesus Christ.

    If a person did a heinous crime as a teenager and spent the next 34 years repenting of it and even choosing to reconcile with family of his victims, if he truly truly found God and has been doing nothing but trying to serve God in his incarceration and to improve his work and communication skills, does not that person deserve some genuine grace and a chance to live outside of prison. Surely his own experience can help other young people on the road to eternal damnation.

    Not ALL people who commit violent and heinous crimes are the same. They must be considered individually with serious consideration as to whether their time in prison was spent bettering themselves. It is unfair to make a blanket statement for all criminals. There but for the grace of God go each of us.

  • Do any of you know God and all the sins He has forgiven you by the ultimate sacrifice of His only begotten son. ALL have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. Yet, we are justified by grace as a gift – if we accept it – by the redemption of Jesus Christ.

    If a person did a heinous crime as a teenager and spent the next 34 years repenting of it and even choosing to reconcile with family of his victims, if he truly truly found God and has been doing nothing but trying to serve God in his incarceration and to improve his work and communication skills, does not that person deserve some genuine grace and a chance to live outside of prison. Surely his own experience can help other young people on the road to eternal damnation.

    Not ALL people who commit violent and heinous crimes are the same. They must be considered individually with serious consideration as to whether their time in prison was spent bettering themselves. It is unfair to make a blanket statement for all criminals. There but for the grace of God go each of us.

    • He killed two innocent women. Fine if he reads the Bible and prays, as long as it’s in the rebar hotel until he’s 100 or he croaks himself, whichever comes first.

  • Please please vote Judge Woodman out of Palmer !!! Vote Woodman Off the bench & thank you so much!

  • I remember the horrific cold blooded murders of Tamera Lienhart’s family in 1985. Shocked the community to its core.
    Just as the cold blooded murder of David Grunwald has done.
    Ìt takes a twisted person, even if a juvenile, to be able to KILL another human in cold blood. Five years and done for a double homicide is a slap on the wrist. Shameful.

    I cannot fathom how lenient lawmakers can justify allowing this young man freedom after killing 2 family members for “nagging” him. His next victim’s blood will be on them.

  • In regards to Tamera Lienhardt’s article “Juvenile murderer set free by Alaska Supreme Court”. I agree that something must be done about violent teens. I do not mean throw away the key. I believe that what is written on the prison building (DOC) Department of Corrections is to rehabilitate individuals so they can have a chance of becoming a productive member of society. I would like to point out a few things. In this article, there was a lack of truth and a blatant lie when she spoke about Cordell Boyd and his senseless crime of triple homicide back in 1985, “that they always wanted to kill someone.” I know Cordell Boyd personally. She has not sat down and had mediation with him, as her Mom Janice Lienhart and her Aunt Sharon Nahorney have done. I guarantee you if she ever will she will walk away with a different outlook on him.

    After his mediation with Sharon Nahorney, she embraced him so much; years later when he got married, she was one of his witnesses. I have seen the pictures. I have had long discussions with Cordell. Do not take me wrong, he understands the severity of his crime. He works in the infirmary. He reads the word of God to those who wants to hear it, and takes care of an 89 yr old man that he has to do everything for including wiping his butt. He was at the bedside of and man that was terminally ill and he held that man’s hand until he died.

    Like her mom Janice Lienhardt and Sharon Nahorney in their meditations, he has told me his story too. How it affects his life daily from similar stories like his senseless crime. He has shown great remorse emotionally and through his actions. Instead of trying to use pain and suffering and visceral community outrage to catapult yourself into the political arena for selfish gains. Let’s allow Jesus to have his say,” But go and learn what this means; I desire mercy not sacrifice. For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.

  • The juvenile system is pretty much screwed up. The Probation Officers and their Supervisors are pretty much the problem. It’s like sometimes the left hand don’t know what the right hand is doing. Taking DNA of a qualifying juvenile is pretty much a hit and miss situation at juvenile facilities, at least the one I’m thinking about. And even after the PO has been reminded that DNA needs to be collected, on their juvenile it’s like pulling teeth to get it done, if it gets done at all. It’s a sad sad sad situation.

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