A federal judge on Monday sentenced 27-year-old Hiram Ducasse Jr. of Palmer to 20 years in prison for his role in a 2015 overdose death.
Prosecutors say Ducasse met up with 22-year-old Michael Chalender and his girlfriend at a Wasilla gas station on Nov. 30, 2015. He sold Chalender a half gram of heroin for $100 and the couple "shared some of the heroin," according to court documents filed by the prosecution.
Chalender's girlfriend then dropped him off at his father's house in Houston. The next morning, the family found Chalender in his bed — dead. Autopsy results revealed he died of a heroin overdose.
"The pain of losing a child is nothing you could ever imagine and it doesn't go away," his father, Dale Chalender, told U.S. District Court Judge Sharon Gleason on Monday. "For me, there will never be closure until the day I meet my son in heaven."
Family of Michael Chalender spoke of his character in federal court in Anchorage Monday and the gaping hole left in their lives when he died. His mother described him as "loving" and "sweet." He liked fishing, football, and family board game nights, she said between sobs.
Chalender had started using drugs as a teenager, said his older brother, Yoshi Okamoto, but wanted to get clean. He said Chalender would give up drugs, and then fall back into them.
"Little by little he was doing better," Okamoto said. "He wasn't out of the woods, but he was getting there."
According to the Department of Corrections, Chalender was released from prison on Nov. 30, 2015, the same day he met up with Ducasse. He had been sentenced to two years in prison for misconduct involving a controlled substance.
Ducasse was released from prison the month before, on Oct. 9. He had been serving a three-year sentence for heroin distribution.
Ducasse, in a yellow prison jumpsuit, told Gleason Monday that he sold heroin to fund his own addiction.
According to court documents filed by his defense attorney, Ducasse's addiction began when a friend's mother gave him "opiate drugs" in high school to "overcome football related injuries."
He said he grieved for Chalender, who he described as his friend.
"I am not the reason for the opioid epidemic in the Valley or in Alaska," Ducasse told Gleason. "I'm just somebody that got stuck on a vice, and my vice and Mike's vice was heroin."
But Assistant U.S. Attorney James Barkeley disputed that Ducasse and Chalender were friends. Instead, he described Ducasse as the "pusher" and Chalender as his "customer."
He said Ducasse was caught selling heroin at the same Wasilla gas station years prior. He was on felony probation when he sold heroin to Chalender. He had not learned his lesson, Barkeley said.
In a plea deal, Ducasse had agreed to plead guilty to two drug offenses: conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute heroin, and possession of controlled substances with intent to distribute. Prosecutors agreed to drop the most serious charge, distribution of heroin resulting in serious bodily injury and death.
Barkeley called the deal "very compassionate."
Barkeley asked Gleason to hand down the maximum sentence on Monday for the remaining two charges: 20 years in prison.
Chalender's sister, Tamara Dodds, said her family was "very grateful" that Ducasse received the maximum sentence, "but at the same time that doesn't change what happened."
"It still hurts every day," she said.