Ephraim D. Lockuk, 31, was sentenced Friday in Anchorage Superior Court to eight years in prison for killing an acquaintance and business partner during an argument over a $28,000 debt.
Lockuk was originally charged with first- and second-degree murder for stabbing Raymond Sais, 53, in the chest at the victim's home in the early morning hours of Jan. 11, 2012. But a jury acquitted Lockuk of the first-degree charge and was split on the lesser murder charge. Defense attorney Jeffrey Robinson argued at Friday's sentencing that his client acted in self-defense out of fear for his life.
Instead of retrying the case, the state offered a plea deal to Lockuk, who agreed to plead guilty to manslaughter, a felony that carries a presumptive range of seven to 11 years.
According to court testimony, Sais worked out a partnership with Lockuk in which he'd front the younger man a half pound of marijuana to sell in the Bristol Bay village of Togiak. However, Lockuk accumulated a hefty debt due to a pill addiction, said assistant district attorney Adam Alexander.
When an early morning 911 call summoned police officers and medics to Sais' mobile home on Brayton Drive, the first responders found a lifeless Sais, according to the charges.
Lockuk was at the mobile home with Sais and several people, including Sais' daughter, until about 11:30 p.m. the night before, the charges say. A man sleeping in a back bedroom awoke to the sound of Sais screaming for help. Sais was leaning on a door in the kitchen; a knife was nearby, the witness told detectives. The man went to a neighbor's home, and the neighbor called 911 at about 5:40 a.m., police said. Officers found Sais with a stab wound to his chest and the knife on a kitchen counter close by, the charges say.
Lockuk's father-in-law told detectives that Lockuk called him at about 6 a.m. Lockuk told the man that he and Sais were arguing Wednesday morning when he saw a knife and "grabbed it and stuck Mr. Sais" and then fled from the mobile home, the charges say. Lockuk told detectives he'd been at the mobile home and argued with Sais "in large part" because he owed Sais about $28,000, the charges say.
Police arrested Lockuk after detectives called him up and he drove to the Anchorage Police Department to turn himself in.
Lockuk posted bail in July 2013 after spending about a year and a half behind bars. He also qualifies for "good time" credit based on his behavior in jail. Superior Court Judge Gregory Miller estimated Lockuk may be released in as little as four years.
The prosecutor used a handful of excerpts from Lockuk's trial testimony during his closing statements. He briefly outlined the business relationship between the victim and the defendant.
According to Alexander's recitation of the testimony, Lockuk admitted to purchasing half pounds of marijuana from Sais to sell in Togiak, the defendant's home village. Sais would front Lockuk the drugs, and the village sales brought in $5,000 to $6,000, according to court testimony.
Lockuk kept about $1,000 in profit during the arrangement that lasted for more than a year. However, a prescription drug addiction caused Lockuk to accumulate substantial debt as Sais agreed to keep providing marijuana despite diminishing returns, according to court testimony.
The night before the fatal stabbing, Sais agreed to give Lockuk more marijuana for a price much lower than it was worth, Alexander said. Lockuk gave Sais what the prosecutor recalled the defendant referring to as a "bullshit roll," a roll of $1 bills with a $100 bill wrapped around the outside.
Sais discovered the ruse, and Lockuk ended up back at Sais' home later that night. When Lockuk tried to leave, the men began to argue, Alexander said.
The court heard arguments about whether a gun had been present and where it was. Robinson, the defense attorney, said there was a gun. His client felt threatened and acted on a compulsion.
Robinson said there was clear and convincing evidence for the court to accept an "imperfect self-defense mitigator" that would have potentially reduced his client's sentence to three and a half years. Judge Miller accepted the argument but did not reduce the sentence; the law does not requires judges to do so.
The state argued against the lesser sentence, stating Lockuk placed himself in a situation likely to escalate into a physical altercation. Alexander also asked the judge to consider the "tailspin" of the defendant's addiction, as well as evidence showing Lockuk fled the scene and did not call for help.
Robinson said the loss of life was tragic but needed to be put into context. Sais was in the process of a divorce and had his own legal debt to handle. Lacking payment for the marijuana enraged Sais, he said.
"He was stewing about his life going out of control," Robinson said, arguing Lockuk went over to the victim's house to resolve a situation -- not to kill the man.
In an ideal world, the defense attorney said, his client would have made the right decision, stayed with Sais' body and called for help. He said Lockuk eventually turned himself in and told a believable and consistent story, which explains the jury's decisions.
Sais' family doesn't buy the self-defense claim, however.
Deborah Willoya, Sais' partner for 25 years before they split, spoke reverently about the man. She said the defense's timeline of events didn't add up and requested that the judge consider all the victims of Lockuk's crime.
Mikse Willoya-Marx, Deborah's niece, said despite the separation, the family lost its leader. Lockuk and his defense attorney's portrayal of Sais is an aside to how great he really was, she said. He'd made a name for himself in the restaurant community as a chef, she said. Willoya-Marx said it was obvious the agreed-upon charged should have been second-degree murder.
When Lockuk addressed the court, he first offered an apology to Sais' family.
"He was my friend," Lockuk said. "I wish everything didn't have to end up this way."
Lockuk said he'd commit himself to a life free of substances upon release. He later hugged a family member before court officers handcuffed him and escorted him out of the courtroom.
By JERZY SHEDLOCK