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Court records: Wade sought imprisonment outside Alaska before striking plea deal

Jerzy Shedlock
Joshua Wade admitted to killing Della Brown and Mindy Schloss in state court on February 17, 2010, and was sentenced to 99 years in prison, as was called for in a plea deal. Authorities say Wade admitted to three additional killings in hopes of being placed in a facility outside of Alaska. Marc Lester photo

Convicted murderer Joshua Wade finally got what he wanted.

According to court records, Wade argued in a 2011 appeal that he accepted a plea deal -- in which he admitted to killing two Alaska women in separate state and federal cases -- only because prosecutors gave verbal assurances they’d try to house him at an Outside prison.

Wade avoided the possibility of the death penalty in federal court thanks to the plea deal, but he said death would have been preferable to life in an Alaska correctional facility.

“Even with the threat of lethal injection looming over my head, (I) never would have pled guilty if Alaska were even slightly a possible designation,” Wade said in a neatly handwritten post-conviction relief affidavit.

Wade admitted to killing Della Brown in 2000 and was convicted in the 2007 murder of his Anchorage neighbor Mindy Schloss. He has no hope of release, having faced twin trials in 2009 in state and federal court related to the Schloss killing. In state court, he faced a murder charge. In federal court, it was a carjacking charge. Alaska has no death penalty, but because Schloss died during the carjacking, Wade was eligible for the punishment in the federal system.

Wade agreed to admit to killing Schloss and Brown, whose murder he’d previously been acquitted of in state court. The deal called for Wade to immediately go into federal custody if he ever left the state system. He faces life sentences in both jurisdictions.

Wade admitted in state court filings that he understood he would not be able to “pick and choose” his destination following the convictions, but he argued prosecutors made pledges, though the Alaska Department of Corrections refused to put the potential placement deals in writing. He quotes his defense attorneys as relaying, “No guarantees, but (prosecutors) said you’d never be housed around Alaskans.”

“And from the start I was trying to get to a non-Alaskan state prison system due to the notoriety from my cases and the wish to be housed where I could be just another face on the yard, not whispered about for the rest of my life based on media-based character defilement for a decade, and to be more accessible to my family who’re all in the states,” Wade wrote.

Wade initially presented these arguments and attempted to recant his murder confessions in May 2011, when he filed for post-conviction relief, a last-ditch effort convicted criminals use to seek release, new trials, or modification of their sentences.

The civil case closed earlier this month; Wade provided information to authorities claiming he’d killed at least three other Alaskans in exchange for a transfer out of state. According to an online federal inmate tracker, he is currently housed at a medium-security prison in Atlanta.

Earlier this year, Wade took responsibility for the deaths of 38-year-old John Michael Martin in 1994, when Wade was 14, and 30-year-old Henry Ongtowasruk in 1999. Both men were mentally ill. Wade also confessed to killing an unidentified man the same night he murdered Brown.

During a press conference on June 20, federal and state authorities, along with Anchorage police officials, broke the news about Wade’s transfer and the three murder investigations. Authorities said Wade claimed mistreatment in Alaska’s prison system.

“Not one week after my guilty plea I was designated to Seward’s Spring Creek Correctional Center … to their solitary confinement, where I remain today,” Wade wrote in an affidavit filed in August 2012. He said solitary was detrimental to his mental health in a separate court filing.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Steve Skrocki said in an email the infamous murderer’s displeasure with being housed in Alaska was not a factor in the decision to move him. Local, state and federal interest in taking up Wade on his offer was motivated by numerous parties’ interest in closing three cold cases, he said.

“That interest was juxtaposed with the choice of keeping Wade in Alaska at the risk of not solving these murders -- ever,” Skrocki said. “In the collective view, the interests in resolving those murders for the sake of the victim families and the public at large outweighed where Wade would serve” his life sentence.  

That Wade was holed up alone in a cell in Alaska’s only maximum-security prison rather than an Outside facility apparently surprised one of his attorneys, Suzanne Lee Elliot.

“Although no guarantees were made, at the time of the plea, I believed that the Alaska DOC intended to send Mr. Wade out of state after he was convicted and committed to its custody,” Elliot said in an affidavit.

She said she even assisted in placing funds on Wade’s “books” the night before the plea so he’d have money to buy food and a television after he was moved.

Wade’s placement in the Seward prison resulted in “very difficult circumstances” for him, Elliot said. Due to segregation, he was not allowed to have social interactions with other inmates or have access to programs, she said.

“He is ‘locked down’ 23 hours a day,” she said. “In my view, had Mr. Wade been transferred out of state -- where he would not be so notorious -- his living conditions would be more humane.”

Wade does not detail why he was placed in segregation. But he contends the DOC officials involved in the “placement negotiations” with his attorneys were the same individuals who chose solitary confinement less than a week after his plea.

Allegations of sexual assaults

Despite Wade’s claims of discomfort due to notoriety, he had previously found himself involved in a civil suit brought against the state by an inmate who accused Wade and others of sexually assaulting him while incarcerated.

Anchorage attorney Sam Fortier said a former client tipped him off about an inmate that the DOC was failing to protect. The Department of Corrections filed a complaint against the alleged sex abusers, thus making Wade a third-party defendant to the case.

The victim was a small man who suffers from fetal alcohol syndrome. Fortier said the man, who has been in and out of jail for breaking probation conditions, was severely mentally disabled, which made him an easy target for predatory inmates.

Wade and the victim first reportedly met in Arizona, when they were housed at a facility where Alaska sent its prisoners. Wade sexually abused the man there, according to affidavits, and Arizona officials issued an order requiring Wade be kept separate from the other prisoner. However, the two crossed paths again when, in May 2009, Wade was transferred to the general population of the Anchorage Correctional Complex. Fortier said Wade and his client were both placed in the jail’s Echo Mod; he contends the DOC was aware of the separation order from Arizona.

Wade approached the man and asked him to come into a cell to discuss the “Arizona incident,” according to court records. Once inside, the records say, Wade sexually assaulted the man and “threatened that (he) would never see his family again if he refused.”

Fortier said his client was also threatened and intimidated by Jason Rak, aka Jasmine Divine Angelica, who stands accused of killing a fellow inmate at Spring Creek early Sunday.

Wade, Angelica and Sabil Mujahid were removed as defendants from the civil case early on, Fortier said. The Department of Corrections eventually settled out of court, agreeing to pay at least $200,000, he said.

Skrocki, the U.S. attorney, said authorities did not discuss Wade’s longtime desire for Outside imprisonment or the sexual assault allegations when they decided to send him beyond Alaska’s borders.