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Anchorage woman will finish college semester before going to jail for cyclist's death

  • Author: Jerzy Shedlock
  • Updated: July 7, 2016
  • Published March 14, 2016

After several postponements, an Anchorage Superior Court judge decided Monday that Alexandra Ellis -- who pleaded guilty last year to striking and killing an Anchorage cyclist in 2014 -- would go to prison on May 2, allowing her to complete her semester of college.

Ellis, 18, was sentenced in August to a year in prison in the death of cyclist Jeff Dusenbury, whom she hit while driving intoxicated on July 19, 2014, according to a state sentencing memorandum in the case. She'd pleaded guilty in May to criminally negligent homicide and driving under the influence.

Dusenbury's family said after the hearing that it helped to hear what the court refers to as a "remand date," but given Ellis' initial date of incarceration was Oct. 8, they question the scheduling.

Dusenbury's daughter, Madisen Holder-Dusenbury, and Melissa Holder, her mother, said an emotional weight remains on the family until Ellis is behind bars, making amends.

Ellis, who was 17 when Dusenbury was killed, drove a friend home after throwing a party at her parents' house while they were away. While driving in reverse down a South Anchorage neighborhood road, she collided with Dusenbury, 51, who was riding his bicycle, according to the state's sentencing memorandum. Ellis then left the scene of the accident, it says.

The plea deal galvanized Dusenbury's broad circle of friends and colleagues -- and members of the general public -- to argue for harsher penalties in the case. Hundreds protested the deal during a "Justice for Jeff" rally shortly after the agreement was announced.

Anchorage Superior Court Judge William Morse presided over Monday's hearing, as he handled the arraignment of Ellis and her bail conditions. The new hearing focused on whether two treatment programs Ellis enrolled in would count toward her yearlong sentence.

Judge Morse said Ellis' first 24-day stint in a crisis intervention program wouldn't count toward her time served. He said he plans to issue a decision on a much longer stay at Arch Adolescent Residential Center, a drug treatment program, in one or two days.

Ellis participated in the latter program for more than 250 days. An Office of Victims' Rights attorney questioned whether a visit to the Alaska State Fair during the program followed the law regarding crediting time for treatment programs in lieu of jail time. The defense argued Ellis visited the fair for four hours with program counselors, under strict rules.

OVR attorney Trina Sears said the defense needed to prove Ellis was supervised during the trip. After being pushed on the question, Sears said the time Ellis spent in the program should not count toward her sentence if she broke the rules.

Ellis testified 15 program participants went to the fair, and the group was unaware of the plans until the day of. She wasn't allowed to speak to anyone not enrolled in the program, or allowed outside the sight of counselors. Breaking those rules would mean a drug test or immediate incarceration, she said.

Ellis said she had recreational activities on Saturdays and attended church on Sundays as part of Arch. She also left the facility twice with her parents, she said.

District Attorney Clint Campion said Ellis' departures with her parents raised concerns, but Morse noted a letter from the director of Arch stating Ellis never violated the program's rules.

Melissa Holder asked judge Morse to consider jailing Ellis sooner rather than later. She is in the process of moving out of state, and she has flown back to Alaska for two hearings, she said.

"It feels like she's not being held responsible," Holder said.

Defense attorney Kevin Fitzgerald told the judge there were multiple reasons to delay sending his client to prison, particularly her ongoing spring classes at the University of Alaska Anchorage. He agreed to a date of May 2, a day after the semester ends.

The parties said during that hearing that Ellis likely would have to serve about two to three months in prison if Morse ruled in the defense's favor.

Outside the courtroom, Dusenbury's family said they were extremely disappointed with the state's judicial system.

"It's shown that if you're privileged you can pretty much select if you do your (prison) time, or when you do your prison time," Melissa Holder said.

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