Court reverses Ketchikan man’s murder conviction

Court reverses Ketchikan man’s murder conviction

  • By Mark Thiessen
  • Saturday, September 16, 2017 9:01pm
  • News

ANCHORAGE — A former Ketchikan assistant district attorney made so many improper points in his closing arguments that it undermined the fundamental fairness of the trial, the Alaska Court of Appeals ruled Friday when reversing a second-degree murder conviction.

The court ruled in the case of Devin Rossiter, who was convicted in the stabbing death of Nick Stachelrodt in Ketchikan.

Stachelrodt, 45, had confronted Rossiter, then 18, on March 12, 2011, as the younger man rifled a car belonging to Stachelrodt’s father outside a home they shared.

Rossiter had been drinking and had knocked on doors asking people for cigarettes, including the door of Stachelrodt’s elderly father. Nick Stachelrodt and Rossiter struggled, and Stachelrodt was stabbed twice. Rossiter claimed self-defense.

In his closing statements, then-Ketchikan assistant district attorney James Scott used a PowerPoint presentation with one slide that read, “Nick Stachelrodt did not deserve to die.” The next slide for the jury said the only way they could find Rossiter not guilty was by disagreeing with the last slide and believing “Nick Stachelrodt deserved what he got.”

According to the ruling, Scott continued to hammer the point during a closing statement that lasted one hour and 41 minutes.

“What was the offensive thing that Nick Stachelrodt did,” Scott asked, according to the ruling. “Because believe me, if you convict Mr. Rossiter of anything other than murder in the second degree, or (if you) acquit Mr. Rossiter, send him home, then you have to conclude that Nick Stachelrodt did something horrible to deserve what happened to him.”

The defense appealed, successfully arguing the slides and statements mischaracterized the law of self-defense and shifted the burden of proof to the defense, presuming Rossiter was guilty unless they agreed Stachelrodt “deserved what he got,” the opinion says.

The court ruled that self-defense “does not hinge on whether the deceased ‘deserved to die.’” But Scott repeated told the jury that Rossiter’s claim of self-defense would only be valid if Stachelrodt deserved to die.

The court said the error was so obvious that the trial judge was required to intervene. It did not say if that happened, but Rossiter was convicted of second-degree murder and evidence tampering.

“The closing argument was really egregious, and I hope it tells people on both sides of the aisle to watch what you say in closing statements because it’s really unfair,” said Marjorie Mock, an Anchorage-based attorney with the public defender’s agency, which represented Rossiter.

Cori Mills, a spokeswoman for the Alaska attorney general’s office, said her office doesn’t intend to petition the Alaska Supreme Court. She said it was evaluating its ability to re-try the case based on the availability of witnesses and other factors.

Scott, who later became the district attorney in Juneau before retiring in June, could not immediately be reached for comment.

The court also found that Scott also erred by suggesting that Rossiter’s claim of self-defense was a sham invented by his defense lawyers in hopes the jury would look at the victim in a bad light. “This is not permitted,” the opinion says.

In a one paragraph concurring opinion, Judge Marjorie Allard said the closing arguments “constituted a gross distortion of the law.”

Court reverses Ketchikan man’s murder conviction

More in News

Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion
Alexis Alamillo, of Anchorage, carries a sockeye salmon caught in a dipnet from the mouth of the Kenai River on Wednesday.
Kenai River dipnetting now open 24 hours a day

The liberalization of fishing regulation was effective starting Thursday evening

A drone rises into the air while kicking up dust, departing on a test flight for the use of beyond visual line of sight drone aircraft, at Furie Operating Alaska’s central processing facility in Nikiski, Alaska, on Wednesday, July 10, 2024. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)
Drone test flight operates beyond visual line of sight between Nikiski and a Cook Inlet platform

The drone could perform deliveries to and from Cook Inlet platforms

A map of Lower Skilak Campground shows the areas that will be closed in July and August 2024. (Graphic provided by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)
Areas of Lower Skilak Campground to close for repair starting Monday

The East Loop will be closed — projected to be reopened at noon on Aug. 4

Kenai Courthouse is photographed on Feb. 26, 2019, in Kenai, Alaska. (Clarion file)
Sterling resident sentenced to 30 years in prison for sexual abuse of minors

Additionally, Crane will face 15 years of supervised probation as well as sex offender registration and treatment

Shrubs grow outside of the Kenai Courthouse on Monday, July 3, 2023 in Kenai, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Former Soldotna police officer acquitted of 2023 assault allegations

He was found not guilty following a five-day trial in late June

A parade of cars and trucks flying flags in support of former President Donald Trump proceed down the Kenai Spur Highway in Kenai, Alaska, on Sunday, July 14, 2024. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)
Residents caravan across central peninsula in support of Trump

The parade came a day after an attempted assassination of the former president

Drummers perform during a celebration of the 10th anniversary of the Dena’ina Wellness Center in Kenai, Alaska, on Friday, July 12, 2024. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)
Kenaitze tribe celebrates 10 years of ‘far-fetched dream’ at wellness center

Community members recognized the work done at the Dena’ina Wellness Center over the past decade

The Kenai Safeway is seen on Wednesday, July 20, 2022. (Camille Botello/Peninsula Clarion)
Kenai and Soldotna Safeways may be sold under proposed Kroger-Albertsons merger

The local stores will be sold to CS Wholesale Grocers only if the merger overcomes suit from the FTC

Sockeye salmon caught in a set gillnet are dragged up onto the beach at a test site for selective harvest setnet gear in Kenai, Alaska, on Tuesday, July 25, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)
Draft plan published for disbursement of $11.5 million in 2021 and 2022 ESSN disasters

Public comment will be accepted for the draft spend plan until July 24

Most Read