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Former Bethel foster parent Peter Tony sentenced to 66 years for child sex abuse

Michelle Theriault Boots
The Bethel house where Marilyn and Peter Tony lived from the early 1990s to 2012, and where Peter Tony allegedly abused children in the couple's foster and daycare. Eli Martin photo

A Fairbanks judge on Tuesday sentenced Peter Tony, a former foster parent in the Southwest Alaska community of Bethel, to 66 years in prison for sexually abusing children.

“You will be in jail for the rest of your life,” Superior Court Judge Douglas Blankenship told the 70-year-old defendant.

Blankenship said Tony preyed on vulnerable children entrusted to his care for nearly 40 years.

Tony admitted to molesting his stepdaughters, two of whom later committed suicide, an unknown number of foster children in his care and a young girl his wife was babysitting, according to a court transcript of the hearing. The abuse happened between 1973 and 2012, the transcript said.

One of Tony's victims, former stepdaughter Kimberley Bruesch, was in the courtroom. Bruesch has spoken publicly about the effect of Tony’s abuse on her and her sisters.

The judge found there was “likely a connection between (Tony’s molestation) and (the sisters) taking their own lives.”

The sentencing came five months after Tony pleaded guilty to three counts of sexual abuse of a minor. The charges were linked to molestation of a 4-year-old girl in 2011 and a 12-year-old foster child in 1998, the only instances of abuse prosecutors said they had enough evidence to charge.

Tony's case has attracted widespread attention in part because some of the abuse happened while he was a state-licensed foster parent in a region where child sex abuse is epidemic.

Bethel district attorney June Stein has said her office prosecutes more than 200 cases of sexual abuse of a minor each year.

From 1984 to 1998, Tony and his wife, Marilyn, took in seriously needy foster children, including teenagers who still needed help learning to clean themselves, children with fetal alcohol syndrome and kids who had already cycled through dozens of foster homes.

After the couple’s foster care license was abruptly revoked in 1998 due to what is described in state records as a “substantiated” report of sexual abuse, they began operating an informal, unlicensed daycare.

Tony was arrested 15 years later on sex abuse charges.

In court Tuesday, Tony made a statement in which he talked about his “blackout” drinking days and said he had “no guidance” growing up, according to an audio recording of the hearing from Bethel public radio station KYUK.

When asked whether he had anything to say to his victims, Tony apologized.

“I am sorry those things happened,” Tony said.

The father of another victim was also present in the courtroom Tuesday, with the same victim's mother listening in by phone. The sister of a third victim listened by phone, too.

Blankenship said he had considered factors, including the possibility of rehabilitation, in sentencing Tony.  

He concluded that Tony should not be eligible for discretionary parole because of a "lack of likelihood for rehabilitation."

The 82-year sentence, with 16 suspended, handed down by the judge means there is no chance Tony will live long enough to be released on mandatory parole.

“He will be long dead before he was eligible,” Stein said. “Perhaps a sentence of this magnitude will deter other people.”

Contact Michelle Theriault Boots at mtheriault@adn.com.