A drunken, psychotic rage led 67-year-old convicted killer Berne Peterson to shoot her longtime friend and roommate at close range in 2011, lawyers said at Peterson's sentencing Tuesday.
Prosecutors said Peterson held a .410 bore Snake Charmer shotgun within inches of 58-year-old Colleen Fukuda's head when she pulled the trigger, killing Fukuda as she lay in bed inside the roommates' Turnagain Street house. At her bench trial in August, Peterson said both women -- friends for the better part of 30 years, who shared a house for about 20 -- had been drinking and arguing, and that the shooting was an accident. That last round of bickering started, police said, when Fukuda refused to help Peterson walk to the bathroom.
Superior Court Judge Larry Card said the evidence showed Peterson might not have fired the gun intentionally, but her actions were reckless enough to warrant a conviction for second-degree murder. On Tuesday, Card sentenced Peterson to serve 25 years in prison, calling the shooting "a very tragic case."
"It seems to me, but for the alcohol, we'd have an entirely different situation," Card said.
Fukuda's sister, Sharon Hurley, said Fukuda met Peterson when they were both working as nurses at Providence Alaska Medical Center. Peterson quit because of her bad knees and other health issues, including diabetes, according to Peterson's attorney, David Weber. She started using Fukuda as her personal nurse, demanding help even when Fukuda was away with her family, said Hurley, who described Peterson as abusive, controlling and "pure evil."
"Berne took my sister away a long time before this happened," Hurley told the judge.
After years of verbal attacks, Fukuda started talking about wanting to return to her home state of Hawaii to help care for her father, who had heart problems, Hurley said. That infuriated Peterson, she said.
"She wanted to be in control, and she didn't want us to influence her. Over the years it just got worse, and worse, and worse," Hurley said. "Colleen was actually like a personal slave."
It was the night of April 19, 2011, when a loud fight brought police to the roommates' house, according to a charging document. Officers found Peterson drunk and holding a knife, while Fukuda appeared sober, police said at the time. Peterson put down the knife, and because there wasn't evidence of a crime, no charges were filed, police said.
The next night, the women started fighting again when Fukuda refused to get out of bed to help Peterson to the bathroom, according to the charges. Peterson later told police she walked to Fukuda's bedroom with the loaded shotgun, and just after Fukuda "gave her a dirty look," the shotgun "just went off," the charges said.
Weber, Peterson's attorney, said a combination of prescription drugs, alcohol and mental issues caused her to shoot at something imaginary. Evidence showed Fukuda was asleep when she was fatally shot, Weber said.
"Whoever and whatever Ms. Peterson was interacting with in Ms. Fukuda's bedroom, it may have looked like Ms. Fukuda, but it wasn't Ms. Fukuda," Weber said. "We've basically got her interacting with something that's not there."
In a statement to Judge Card, Peterson apologized to Fukuda's family and said she did not remember the shooting, something the judge later said he didn't believe.
"I loved Colleen. We were the best of friends," Peterson said. "I think the main thing of this is I blacked out, and when I came around, I didn't remember what had happened. I'm extremely sorry for causing the pain that (her family is) going through. I'm going through it myself."
Peterson was overcome by tears at the end of her statement and stopped to sob into a tissue.
Outside the courtroom after the hearing, Fukuda's sister-in-law, Jeannie Fukuda, was crying, too.
"She killed one person, but she hurt all my family," Jeannie Fukuda said. "She took away one person's life, and she killed everybody's feelings."
Reach Casey Grove at firstname.lastname@example.org or 257-4589.