A man convicted in 2013 of assaulting his mother and an Alaska State Trooper at a Sterling home has had his conviction reversed after appeal.
Former Sterling resident William M. Bahl was convicted in October 2013 on two counts of third-degree assault — one for making his mother afraid he would shoot her with a handgun, and one for placing a trooper in fear with a shotgun.
The May 23, 2013 incident, which was reported in the Clarion at the time of the arrest, stemmed from an altercation over the ownership of Bahl’s mother’s home.
According to testimony presented at the trial, Bahl’s mother had called troopers and reported that her son was on bath salts — a synthetic stimulate used as a recreational drug — and acting aggressively. During the argument, Bahl threatened to shoot “someone” if he found out that he had been defrauded. He also said that he would have the right to shoot a trooper in the head if he tried to remove him from the house.
After family members confiscated the handgun, troopers entered the house to talk to Bahl, who came down the stairs holding a shotgun by the barrel, with the barrel pointed toward the ceiling.
When a family member saw the troopers he immediately put his hand on the barrel of the gun to secure it. A trooper then took the gun and Bahl was taken into custody.
During the trial, the prosecutor argued that Bahl was reckless if he was aware of and consciously disregarded a risk that, due to his conduct, people would fear being shot, or that if Bahl was not consciously aware of such a risk, he was oblivious only due to bath salt intoxication.
The jury found Bahl guilty of third-degree assault against his mother and one trooper, and acquitted him on a charge of third-degree assault against a second trooper.
During the trial, however, Bahl’s mother testified that although she felt concerned and intimidated during the incident, Bahl never threatened her or pointed a gun at anyone. A trooper present on the scene testified that Bahl had never pointed the gun at him or any other person. Another trooper testified that Bahl made no oral threats to shoot anyone.
In its May 2 memorandum opinion, the Court of Appeals of the State of Alaska found that the evidence at trial was insufficient to convict Bahl of assaulting his mother.
“No testimony at the trial indicated that [Bahl’s mother] at that point feared that Bahl was about to shoot her. Instead, her concern was for what might happen should the troopers enter the house while the handgun was still in Bahl’s reach. [Bahl’s mother] worried that if he troopers entered the house prematurely, there was a risk that someone could get shot,” the memorandum stated.
The court also found insufficient evidence to convict Bahl of assaulting the trooper.
“The evidence at trial did not support any conclusion that, during the exceedingly brief interval between Bahl’s perception of the troopers and their seizure of this shotgun, Bahl had time to arrive at a conclusion that he should take some step to assuage a fear of harm on the part of the troopers,” the justices wrote.
The court reversed both convictions, with a dissent from Senior Judge Robert Coats on the reversal of the third-degree assault charge against the trooper.
Coats asserted that Bahl must have known that his actions created a high risk that someone would be seriously hurt or at least placed in fear of imminent serious physical injury.
“In my view, although Bahl was unlucky that the police plan to contact him while he was unarmed did not work, he was extremely lucky that his reckless actions did not result in him being shot by troopers,” Coats wrote.
Bahl was sentenced to 17 months in prison for each felony, most of which was suspended. He served about six months of total jail time. Bahl, who now lives in Washington, told the Clarion via email that he has spent the past few years putting his life back together. He now lives in Washington and narrates audio books, he said.
“It is a huge relief of burden to be out from under the felonies,” he said. “I carried them with me for five years. I went through the whole process of probation for three years. It’s beyond words to have the felonies behind me.”
Reach Erin Thompson at firstname.lastname@example.org.