He was convicted twice of murder in Alaska, so the mandatory 99-year prison sentence Kenneth Wahl received in an Anchorage courtroom Friday was no surprise. What remained to be seen was if Wahl, a couple weeks from turning 50, would apologize for killing Elisa Orcutt in her Spenard home four years ago.
He did not. Instead, Wahl said he was falsely accused in the death of his "lady friend" and that the real murderer was still on the loose.
"I know the law requires you to throw the book at me," Wahl told Judge Jack Smith during a rambling 15-minute statement. "Your honor, I'm not an animal. I'm a human being."
Part of Wahl's allocution included a few moments of silence for Orcutt, at his request.
It was April 2009 when Wahl started doing yard work for the 47-year-old divorcee after moving into a trailer parked at her neighbor's house on quiet Cambridge Way. He had recently walked away from a halfway house, where he was supposed to be finishing his sentence for stabbing a man to death in 1983.
Neighbors had no idea a convicted killer was living in their midst. And prosecutors were not allowed to discuss the earlier murder conviction during the trial over Orcutt's death, due to court rules. They said he chopped the back of Orcutt's head, possibly with a sharpened lawn mower blade. After Orcutt's concerned divorce lawyer called police, an officer found her under a large TV, according to testimony at trial.
Surveillance video from another neighbor's house, played in court during the trial, showed Wahl coming and going from Orcutt's home in the days before she was found dead. An autopsy showed the time of death corresponded with Wahl's visits.
His court-appointed lawyer said the police botched their investigation and never looked into the possibility that someone else killed Orcutt. The lawyer, Julia Moudy, said Friday that Wahl was innocent and she expected him to win an appeal of the conviction.
Moudy told Judge Smith that she thought the jurors who convicted Wahl in June found out about the fatal 1983 stabbing through news reports. That information would have tainted their deliberations, she said.
Smith had several warnings to the jury not to read or watch reports during the trial.
"Let's not pretend juries always get it right," Moudy said.
If Wahl had a motive in killing Orcutt, it remained a mystery after the Friday sentencing. He will be eligible for parole in 66 years, though he will likely die in prison, prosecutor Sharon Marshall said.
"There is no other answer for Mr. Wahl," Marshall said.
Before a court officer led Wahl away, he leaned toward Moudy and kissed her on the cheek. Then he told Orcutt's father, Gordon Homme, to, "take care," and shuffled out of the courtroom.
Homme thanked the prosecutors and Detective Milton Jakeway for their work on the case. He said was unhappy with the parole board that had allowed Wahl a chance to get out after his first murder conviction. But mostly, Homme said, he was glad Wahl was going to be behind bars for the rest of his life.
"As far as I'm concerned, he's nothing but a lying S.O.B.," Homme said outside the courtroom. "It's bad news, but I'm glad it's over with."
By CASEY GROVE