The former Anchorage judge who presided over a sexual assault case that ignited outrage in the state provided testimony at the Capitol on Monday to urge passing of a crime bill.
Former Anchorage Superior Court Judge Michael Cory, who lost his seat on the court in a November ballot, appeared by phone at the Senate Finance committee meeting Monday to talk to lawmakers about Senate Bill 12, which aims to close the “Schneider Loophole.”
“I followed the law as it was. Quite frankly I was crucified for it,” Cory said of his role in Schneider’s criminal case. “I support SB 12. … I was not the problem. The law was the problem.”
Justin Schneider, 34, kidnapped a woman from an Anchorage gas station in 2017, strangled her until she passed out, and ejaculated on her. He was later caught by authorities and pleaded guilty to a single felony charge, but was not sentenced to serve additional jail time. His crime fell outside the criminal code’s definition of sexual assault and he walked out of courtroom without any jail time to serve. The case ignited outrage throughout the state, and voters decided not retain Cory as a judge.
“This bill gives prosecutors the tools from keeping that from happening again,” Sen. Peter Micciche, R-Soldotna, said Monday of SB 12, which he wrote.
Sen. Donny Olson, D-Golovin, took issue with a provision in SB 12 that requires the prosecuting attorney in a sexual assault case to make “reasonable effort” to confer with the victim concerning a plea deal. He said it lacked “teeth” because, nothing in this subsection requires the prosecuting attorney to be bound by the victim’s response.
“It just seems like another soft-handed Pillsbury Doughboy type of feel-good legislation,” Olson said.
Micciche said the language in SB 12 was written to add “balance” and respect the victim’s right be as involved in the case as much they want or don’t want to be.
No longer a judge, Cory was able to comment on the matter on Monday. He suggested the senators explore a provision that gives victims of sexual assault the right to veto a plea deal. He said this might meet a constitutional challenge, but it would be worth looking into.
Cory urged them to pass the bill.
“I certainly support all of the measures that are included in there,”he said.
SB 12 would add the following provisions to close the Schneider Loophole:
• Pre-trial time served on an ankle bracelet would not take time off a post-conviction sentence.
• If strangulation is part of the sex crime, that person can be charged with sexual assault in the first degree.
• Requires the prosecuting attorney to make “a reasonable effort” to confer with the victim or their legal guardian and see if the victim is in agreement about any plea deals being proposed.
• “Knowingly causing the victim to come into contact with semen” would be considered sexual contact.
• Contact reporter Kevin Baird at 523-2258 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @alaskakev.