Homeless man gets 40-year sentence in 2011 strangling

Casey Grove
Bob Hallinen

A homeless Anchorage man who pleaded guilty to a murder charge in the strangling of another man in 2011, then tried unsuccessfully to withdraw the plea, was sentenced Friday to 40 years in prison.

Samuel Mishler and his girlfriend, Cynthia Kanayurak-Austin, admitted in court to killing George Brower at a homeless camp on the Chester Creek greenbelt south of the Ben Boeke Ice Arena in April 2011.

Mishler, now 32, and Kanayurak-Austin, now 37, told police that an argument erupted while the three drank alcohol outside the couple's tent, according to a charging document. The quarrel turned physical, with Kanayurak-Austin punching and biting Brower, 42, and Mishler ultimately choking him to death with a white tent strap, the charges say.

Mishler later said Brower was trying to rape his girlfriend.

In 2012, Kanayurak-Austin pleaded guilty to criminally negligent homicide and received a sentence of six years. Mishler agreed to plead guilty to a more serious charge and accept a much harsher penalty: second-degree murder with the 40-year prison sentence.

But Mishler soon changed his mind, deciding he wanted to withdraw the plea, and was appointed a new lawyer.

"He felt pressured to enter a plea by his co-defendant and girlfriend and perhaps by his (previous) attorney," said Kevin Brady, Mishler's lawyer at the Friday sentencing. "He had immediate regrets and wanted immediately to not go forward."

A judge ultimately rejected Mishler's request to withdraw the plea, setting up the Friday hearing, which was all but a formality. Still, Brady told Judge Jack Smith about a different version of Brower's death.

Brower was trying to rape Kanayurak-Austin, and even had his pants down, so Mishler fought off the much larger man, killing him in self-defense, Brady told the judge. If the couple had not been living on the streets and the struggle had occurred in a home, Mishler would have faced a lesser charge, if anything at all, Brady said.

"Because this man was in a nontraditional home, a homeless camp, all right, somehow self-defense doesn't appear to apply to him as much as to someone else," Brady said. "I'll be candid with you, judge. In a moment of weakness, he entered a plea to something that does not describe the facts of this case."

Prosecutor Rob Henderson said he strongly disagreed with Brady's version and said there was nothing to indicate a sexual assault or attempted sexual assault had occurred.

"The evidence just does not support that allegation," Henderson said.

The courtroom gallery was empty Friday, except for one reporter, and there were no victim impact statements or statements on Mishler's behalf. Smith accepted the agreed-upon sentence of 40 years after Mishler spoke briefly.

"I wish none of this would've ever happened, but I can't change it," Mishler said. "I do intend to do good time, and I will not use it unwisely. I intend to improve."

Reach Casey Grove at casey.grove@adn.com or 257-4589.