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Rogers sentenced to 309 years

Kyle Hopkins

A judge sentenced Christopher Erin Rogers Jr. to 309 years in prison Friday for the Anchorage part of a meandering 2007 spree of violence that left a UAA graduate student dead and two other strangers injured.

"I do not want there to ever be a chance that you're going to be released on the streets of Alaska or Anchorage or any other community," Superior Court Judge Eric Aarseth told the shooter.

Rogers murdered two people -- including a fatal machete attack on his father -- and wounded three others between Palmer and Anchorage. Friday's sentencing was only for the Anchorage shootings.

In a separate trial in Palmer, he was convicted last year of killing his father and seriously injuring his father's fiancee. He hasn't been sentenced yet for those crimes.

On Friday, Rogers' lawyer asked for a lighter sentence, saying he clearly wasn't in his right mind during the attacks. Unearthly voices in his head commanded him to kill, Rogers told an Anchorage jury during his trial.

But the judge described a man who was manipulative, merciless and self-centered rather than crazy.

"There was no point during this trial when I heard of these facts that I thought, 'This is a person who did not have a firm grasp on reality,' " Aarseth said as he handed down the sentence.

In early December of 2007 Rogers was on the run after killing his father and injuring his father's fiancee in the Valley and needed a car when he killed 27-year-old Jason Wenger, who was warming up his Ford Bronco in Spenard.

Wenger's stepfather read the judge a letter from the victim's 8-year-old niece. The girl, Abigail Billings, said she missed sledding with Wenger and watching him play video games and seeing him at Christmas.

"I am still going to watch his favorite team and attend softball games to remember him," wrote the niece. "Instead of hugging him, I hug a bear that is made out of one of Jason's sweatshirts.

"I hug it especially when I am sad."

During the sentencing Rogers hunched over a sheet of paper writing what a family member later described as a note to his mother, Sherry Kelly. Kelly sobbed in the spectator's section as the judge announced the mounting sentences, one crime after another.

"None of you guys know my son," she said during a short break in the hearing. "Do I fear him? No."

Back in the courtroom she spoke briefly on Rogers' behalf, saying she loves her son and apologizing to Wenger's family.

Arguing for a roughly 300-year sentence, Prosecutor Adrienne Bachman described the 30-year-old as "the monster we all call and identify as evil."

As the prosecution made its case and Wenger's family members testified, Rogers turned to look at the gallery. He winked toward photographers and tugged his beard.

When it was his turn to talk, Rogers told the judge he feels bad about what he's done.

"Just because the crime looks so bad, I'm not a reflection of the crime itself. I'm just another person," Rogers said. "You know, sometimes good people do bad things and obviously I did a really, really s----y thing."

Wenger's mother, Debbie Staub, didn't buy it. He only regrets the trouble he's in, she said later.

"He's very sorry about where it now puts him, and the consequences, but I don't believe there's real remorse," Staub said.

Rogers seems to enjoy his notoriety of his trial, Aarseth said during sentencing, noting how the defendant at one point wore a white Kleenex poking from pocket of his prison-issue shirt like a kerchief.

"He wants attention. Even in a trial where someone has been killed," the judge said.

MULTIPLE VICTIMS

Rogers killed his father with a machete and attacked his father's fiancee -- and the family dog -- on Dec. 2 in Palmer.

Police say the Anchorage attacks began later that morning after Rogers drove to the city.

First he killed Wenger. Hours later he shot Elizabeth Rumsey, 33, who was walking home from a movie theater in Spenard.

The next morning he shot Tamas Deak, 43, as Deak was warming up his car in South Addition.

"I learned that six bullets went through various parts of my body, collapsing a lung," Deak said in a statement read by prosecutors Friday. "Nicking or breaking bones, just missing my heart and spine, and causing stubborn nerve damage in my leg."

Deak still can't give up the defensive habit of backing into the driveway, he said, "just in case."

An Anchorage jury in April found Rogers guilty of first-degree murder, two counts of attempted murder, robbery, assault, vehicle theft and eluding police. The jury acquitted him on a charge that he attempted to shoot one of the police officers who arrested him.

Friday's sentencing includes three consecutive 99-year sentences. The first is for killing Wenger. The others are the maximum sentence for the attempted murders of Rumsey and Deak.

The additional years are for the robberies and failing to stop for police.

Assistant public defender Zachary Renfro had called for a 40-year sentence, saying Rogers suffered from voices in his head and that the shootings weren't pre-meditated.

The killings didn't belong in the same category as, say, the Fort Hood massacre or the Columbine shootings or abducting women and hunting them for sport in the woods, Renfro argued.

The shootings were horrible acts, Renfro said. But "they are not the top of the murder spectrum."

The judge said he couldn't see any reason to offer a reduced sentence for the two shootings simply because the victims were strong enough to survive.

Rogers could have turned himself in after the initial attacks if he truly felt remorse, the judge said. "Mr. Rogers showed no mercy for any of his victims."

Rogers' mother stormed out of the courtroom as guards prepared to take Rogers away, angry she wasn't allowed to hug and kiss her son goodbye.

"I still stand by my verdict: You are a jerk," she said as she headed for the door. It wasn't clear if she was talking the judge, lawyers or someone else.

Rogers' stepfather, Benny Kelly, sat outside the courtroom later. Kelly disagreed with the judge, who said there was no mental-illness defense for Rogers' case.

"He should have been living in my house when (Rogers) was living with us," Kelly said. Rogers stayed with the family for about two years in his mid-20s and would sometimes come home from his job at an Eagle River greenhouse convinced co-workers were trying to kill him with chemicals, Kelly said.

Wenger's parents said Rogers should get the death penalty, which isn't an option in Alaska.

"As far as the law allows, justice was served today," Mason Staub said after the sentencing.

E-mail Kyle Hopkins at khopkins@adn.com or call 257-4334.

Past coverage of Christopher Erin Rogers
By KYLE HOPKINS
khopkins@adn.com