BETHEL — As sex assaults go, even in a region of Alaska where they happen at an alarming rate, this one was particularly bad.
And it could have been even worse, a state prosecutor said Monday at the sentencing of 18-year-old Elijah Kaganak.
In Bethel Superior Court, prosecutor Bailey Jennifer Woolfstead outlined the crime:
On a cold February night last year in the Southwest Alaska village of Scammon Bay, the then-17-year-old Kaganak was walking around with a 12-year-old girl. She had been in touch with her parents, letting them know she would be home soon.
That didn't happen.
Kaganak, according to the prosecutor, gave her liquor. She drank until she passed out. Then he raped her, Woolfstead said.
In an abandoned, unheated building, "she was left in essence to freeze," the assistant district attorney told Superior Court Judge Dwayne McConnell at Monday's sentencing.
Her parents worried when she didn't show or answer calls or text messages. They organized a search. Her father found her, passed out, her pants off. No one else was around.
The girl is fortunate that her family cared enough and was able to look for her, Woolfstead said.
"Had she just been left in this abandoned building on a February night with no heat, we'd be here on very different charges, judge. Because she could have died."
Through interviews and DNA, investigators connected the assault to Kaganak, a teenager who had not gotten in trouble with the legal system before. At school the day after the assault, he bragged about it, the prosecutor said.
In court Monday, Kaganak didn't speak. He earlier had pleaded guilty to a single count of second-degree sexual assault of an incapacitated person.
He broke down in tears as McConnell went over the sentence, part of a plea deal, and what it means for him and the community. He was dressed in a beige jailhouse uniform with the word "prisoner" on the back.
Alaska has the highest rate of sexual offenses in the country, and in Southwest Alaska the incidence is highest in the state, the judge said.
The girl was hurt, McConnell said, and so was her family.
The judge ordered him to serve five years in prison, with another 15 years of prison time suspended and hanging over his head during 10 years of probation.
He's already served about half of it waiting for his case to be resolved.
"You've still got quite a ways to go," McConnell said. "You've missed many seasons getting ready for winter, getting ready for summer, working, taking care of family and relatives, the way community pulls together."
Five years is the mandatory minimum for the offense, Woolfstead said. Both she and defense lawyer Terrence Haas urged the judge to approve the recommended sentence, which includes elements to help with rehabilitation. They said it was a fair outcome.
Many people will think five years to serve is not enough, even for a teenager, the judge acknowledged. But he has to consider a number of factors under the statutes.
"And I have to look at you. Goodness. You have no record," McConnell said to Kaganak. "This was your first offense, and it was a very serious one."
Kaganak likely has a long life ahead of him with the prospect of turning himself around, the judge said. In jail, he is employed, working in the kitchen, his defense lawyer said.
For a young man, five years is a comparatively long time — one-fourth of his life, the judge said.
When Kaganak gets out of prison, he must be assessed for sex offender and alcohol treatment and must comply with whatever is recommended, the judge said.
The 15 years of suspended time ensures Kaganak will return to jail if he gets into trouble again, the judge said. He will also have to register as a sex offender.