David Standifer, 42, was sentenced Friday in Anchorage Superior Court to 61 years and two days in prison for raping a woman near Ship Creek in 2010. The trial set a precedent for victims and witnesses who want to protect their privacy.
The decision came after more than two hours of arguments to push back the hearing a third time.
Standifer's victim, identified in court documents by the initials N.G., was attacked on an April night in a greenbelt of Anchorage's Mountain View neighborhood. Standifer punched and choked her as he forced himself upon her, according to court testimony.
The defense filed two motions early Friday, one to refer the sentence to a three-judge panel, a tactic sought when the defendant believes certain particulars of a case are "manifestly unjust," and another to set the hearing further out based on the emergence of new evidence, which the court kept private.
Ultimately, Superior Court Judge Kevin Saxby decided against postponing the hearing yet again, which would have lengthened the gap between conviction and sentencing to a year.
Assistant district attorney Jenna Gruenstein said for the victim's sake, she's glad the case is finally over. She said "NG" acted diligently through a tough process that tested her patience and right to privacy.
"Closure for (the victim) is extremely important," Gruenstein said.
The victim spoke before the court, addressing her attacker for the first time since his arrest. She said speaking was not easy for her, but she wanted people to know how important the end of the legal battle was to her and "other victims who choose to stay silent."
NG said several things made her an easy target for rape. She had a drinking problem, she said, and society promotes promiscuity and sexual dominance. Still, Standifer had no excuse to forcefully take what he wanted.
"I'm in the healing process, and most of that process includes forgiveness," she said. "I'm not here for revenge. I'm here for justice."
Currently enrolled in a faith-based substance abuse treatment program in Fairbanks, NG said she's been sober for four months. She admitted to having a turbulent past (she's been convicted for crimes more than 20 times), and her "dirty laundry" is out there for all to see thanks to the case. It was worth it, she said, in order to "break the silence."
Believing God had been merciful with her, she asked Judge Saxby to show mercy on Standifer.
That's part of the reason Saxby gave for deciding on the lowest possible sentences for the sex assault charges. However, he imposed seven years flat for an assault charge, which carried a minimum of six years.
Sentence nothing short of life in prison
Public defender James Ferguson denied the entirety of the presentencing report, saying he and his client did not agree with the state's version of events or the jury's decision. He said the report will follow Standifer in the years to come and ruin his client's chances of seeing life outside prison -- ever.
Saxby said the state's evidence and trial testimony validated the original charges against Standifer and he imposed a sentence based on those facts.
The two had met earlier the night of the attack. Standifer claimed a McDonald's cup filled with vodka caught the woman's attention. She wanted alcohol; he obliged. Standifer admitted he had been drinking too. He was homeless and led the woman back to his tent, where the sexual assault occurred.
Standifer told police in the hours after his arrest that he and the woman "started messing around," but he called it off when he became disinterested. The victim's account of a violent, frightful assault is drastically different. A passerby found her in the street distraught and bloody, half naked, without pants.
When police found Standifer, he was sleeping in his camp. Officers observed blood on his hand and sleeping bag and in the snow. NG's backpack was still nearby. He first told officers the left-behind evidence was the result of the woman being on her menstrual cycle, then later said he tried to help her after she was injured, possibly by some other guy.
Setting a precedent
Standifer was eventually charged with three counts of sex assault and an assault charge, as well as misdemeanor assault. In the three years before the jury trial, NG not only defended her version of events but her privacy as well.
The defense had argued NG was an unreliable witness due to her alcoholism, withdrawal symptoms and a possible bipolar mental health diagnosis. Standifer, through his attorney, sought access to her medical, alcohol treatment and psychiatric treatment records.
A Superior Court trial judge granted the request, with the caveat that the court would review the records first to determine what among them might fall outside the scope of doctor-patient privilege.
NG appealed the ruling to the Alaska Court of Appeals and won.
Her efforts to protect her mental health records from becoming evidence at Standifer's trial will give future victims and state prosecutors more authority to resist "fishing expeditions" -- broad reaches by defense attorneys for any evidence that might help prove a defendant's innocence or cast doubt on the reliability of his accuser.
Gruenstein said after Friday's hearing the appeals decision has already popped up in multiple cases to protect not only victims' privacy but witnesses' as well.
"The decision has set some very good case law for privacy rights," she said.
Prospects for rehabilitation?
Standifer's family sat behind the defense table for the hearing. His sister, Sharon Williford, was called as a defense witness. Ferguson hoped to shed light on the damaging spiral that led Standifer to the lifelong prison sentence.
Williford said everything fell apart when their mother died 29 years ago. Their mother was not a drinker, she said, but, in Standifer's words, he dived "headfirst into a bottle of whiskey" when she died.
Seven past convictions, including two felonies, lengthened Standifer's sentence. Speaking before the court, Standifer said he, too, had found God, just like NG. He no longer is taken by urges to drink.
Standifer turned around in his chair to face his victim and said he was sorry for assaulting her but that she knew the truth and needed to tell the court.
Ferguson argued his client has high prospects for rehabilitation, but Saxby said he saw "low prospects -- but I'm not saying they're nonexistent."