The Alaska Court of Appeals has overturned the conviction of a man found guilty of second-degree murder for a 2011 killing in Ketchikan because the state prosecutor made improper arguments to the jury.
Devin Rossiter fatally stabbed Nick Stachelrodt in a Ketchikan trailer park when Stachelrodt confronted him about rifling through a car for cigarettes, according to an opinion issued by the appeals court Friday.
Rossiter told police he "flipped out" because he was afraid Stachelrodt was going to harm him; the state charged Rossiter with second-degree murder and tampering with evidence, the latter charge stemming from the allegation that he cleaned his knife after the stabbing, according to the opinion.
The Associated Press reported that Rossiter was sentenced to 36 years on both charges in 2012.
Rossiter's attorney argued his client acted in self-defense.
The prosecutor said during closing arguments that the jury must convict Rossiter unless they found the victim "deserved what he got," according to the appeal.
"Still later in his summation, the prosecutor told the jurors the essence of a claim of self-defense was that 'the guy deserved it,' " wrote appeals court Chief Judge David Mannheimer.
Rossiter successfully argued the prosecutor's arguments improperly influenced the jury's decision and shifted the burden of proof to the defense.
"(W)e agree with Rossiter that the prosecutor grossly mischaracterized the law of self-defense," Mannheimer wrote.
In a concurring statement, Appeals Judge Marjorie Allard wrote that second-degree murder was not a forgone conclusion and manslaughter was a plausible verdict in the case.
Records show Rossiter currently remains in custody at Goose Creek Correctional Center. Further information about Rossiter's status was unavailable Friday afternoon because of court closures.