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Death penalty would end punishment of victim's family

Irl Stambaugh,Gary Stambaugh

Our sister Jody Stambaugh was an 18-year-old University of Alaska, Fairbanks student when she was raped and murdered in her dorm room during the early evening hours on Dec. 10, 1972. Her roommate was also seriously assaulted and might have been killed had not others heard the assault and come to her aid.

This horrendous crime occurred so many years ago. How could it possibly be relevant in today's discussion on the death penalty?

We should start at the beginning.

Jody, a third generation Alaskan, was raised with her two brothers in Ketchikan and Juneau. Jody was an exceptional person, always calm, always kind, and always considerate of others. After graduation from high school in Juneau she decided to attend the University of Alaska in Fairbanks.

A known offender

Allen Walunga spent his early years in a small community in Interior Alaska. At an early age he became a violent sexual predator and sexually assaulted several underage girls. (He later admitted to sexually assaulting several young boys in the community during this same time period).

So, what did the powers to be do? They shipped him off to school at Mount Edgecumbe in Sitka, Alaska.

While attending school at Mount Edgecumbe, he obtained a gas soaked rag and held it to the mouth and nose of an intoxicated female student until she went limp. He thought he had killed her so he ran away. After that incident he moved to Fairbanks and attended high school.

During his time in Fairbanks he was charged with pedophilia and child molestation. He was placed on probation.

He then went to the University of Alaska, Fairbanks where no one inquired as to his background before they placed him in a co-ed dorm. (Juvenile records are confidential even when it involves a violent sexual predator being in contact with an entire campus of potential victims).

The nightmare starts

On Dec. 10, 1972, our lives were changed forever. Jody was murdered, another wonderful young lady was assaulted, and Walunga was taken into custody.

Then the nightmare started.

Walunga was found guilty of murder in the 1st degree and assault with the intent to kill.

Judge Van Hoomissen found that Walunga "was an extremely dangerous offender who presented a clear and present danger of killing another person if ever released from prison".

The probation officer stated in part:

If we had a death penalty in this state, I would recommend whatever that death penalty might be. This is a heinous crime and I agree that the chances for rehabilitation are poor."

Judge Van Hoomissen said, "This is probably the most vicious crime that I have had contact with."

He imposed a life sentence on the murder with a concurrent 15 years on the assault with intent to kill count.

At that time our family felt that justice had been done and Walunga would remain in jail for the remainder of his life. We continued with our lives and through time minimized our grief. Our father had a serious heart attack that I will always partially attribute to the grief and sorrow he lived with after our sister's death.

The first parole request

Then in September of 1987 we were shocked to find out that Walunga was able to ask for a parole hearing.

So here we went again. The entire senseless murderous incident was being rehashed in a hearing. As a family, as individuals, and as victims, we responded to Walunga's request and he was denied.

In 1989 he requested commutation of his sentence and was denied.

In 1991 he tested the waters and applied for a parole hearing.

In 1992 he applied for a parole hearing and was denied.

In 1997 he tested the waters and applied for a parole hearing.

In 1998 he applied for a parole hearing and was denied. The parole board said that the release of the defendant on discretionary parole was wholly out of the question and that the board would never again consider another parole application.

The family and victims breathed another sigh of relief that it was finally over and Walunga would remain in jail.

We thought it was over

Then unknown to any family member or victim, the new parole board in 2005 decided that it would consider discretionary parole applications every 10 years, despite what any prior board had decided and contrary to what Judge Van Hoomissen recommended in his sentencing report.

In 2008 Walunga got a parole hearing. It is interesting to note Walunga was being represented by a high-profile Anchorage attorney. Walunga entered into the record a psychiatric report he had paid for. We were not entitled to see it because we were told that it was a medical record.

Sorry?

In addition, Walunga provided the board and victims with a report that says in part he is sorry for the murder (however, he fails to mention that there was a second victim). He says he has found God. He thinks he will do well on probation unless he is confronted with "his temptation to form adulterous friendships with abnormally large breasted women." He also fails to mention his previous sexual misconduct.

This is not an attempt to bash the probation/parole department at corrections. Through it all, after having to deal with antiquated rules, regulations and statutes they have done a remarkable job in keeping Walunga behind bars where he cannot harm anyone in our communities.

After another emotionally grueling hearing for us, Walunga's request was again denied.

37 years of heartache

If you can, imagine the heartache we have endured over the last 37 years, always fearing that this may be the hearing where he gets his way. During that same time period life continues on. Our father and mother have passed away, and our children have grown but we continue to attend hearings. As we promised our mother, we will continue to attend hearings.

The other victim has raised a family, but continues to attend hearings fearing that Walunga will be released.

Do we think that telling our story will change anyone's mind on the death penalty? Probably not, but we do hope it makes you think.

Do we think my sister would agree with the death penalty? Probably not. She was a better person than a lot of us.

Do we agree with the death penalty? In this case with the above set of facts, you bet we do.

Irl Stambaugh is a retired police officer. Gary Stambaugh is a former sergeant-at-arms for the Alaska State Senate. Both are lifelong Alaskans.


By IRL STAMBAUGH AND GARY STAMBAUGH