Joshua Almeda was sentenced to 75 years in prison on Tuesday for killing his girlfriend Breanna Moore, a curly-haired 20-year-old woman described by her family as beautiful, bright and kind.
Almeda had pleaded guilty last year to a charge of second-degree murder in the 2014 shooting. In response, Anchorage Superior Court Judge Philip Volland gave Almeda, 24, a sentence that fell on the higher end of the possible range: 10 to 99 years in jail.
"It was closer to a deliberate shooting than a reckless one," Volland said, noting Almeda's criminal history. "He shouldn't have had a gun. He shouldn't have had the alcohol. He shouldn't have placed himself in that circumstance at all."
Before the sentencing, attorneys and teary-eyed family members presented Volland with conflicting narratives about the relationship Almeda and Moore shared, as well as what exactly happened on the night of the shooting in June 2014. Did Almeda intentionally shoot Moore in his parents' Hillside home? Or did he drunkenly believe that his gun wasn't loaded when he pointed it at her and pulled the trigger?
Night of the shooting
Almeda, dressed in a mustard-colored prison outfit with his dark hair parted to the side, told the judge Tuesday that he had been drinking on the night in June when he killed Moore.
Almeda has a history of mixing alcohol and guns. He also has a history of being emotionally abusive and controlling in romantic relationships, Volland said. A doctor diagnosed Almeda with borderline personality disorder, a "serious mental illness marked by unstable moods, behavior and relationships," according to the National Institute of Mental Health.
At the time of the shooting, Almeda was on probation for a misconduct involving a controlled substance conviction from 2013. He was not allowed to have alcohol or guns, Volland said. But he did.
Almeda said that on June 25, 2014, Moore picked him up at 8:45 p.m. from his class at Akeela, a nonprofit that treats drug and alcohol abuse, according to its website. Assistant District Attorney Paul Miovas, who prosecuted the case, said Almeda was attending classes for anger management.
Almeda said that after he left class, the couple stopped at a gas station. He bought a bottle of rum. While Moore took a shower at his parents' house, he said, he moved blankets and pillows from his bedroom to the basement so they could watch a movie.
By the time Moore got out of the shower, he said, he had drunk about half the bottle of rum. The rest of the night was marked by periods of blackouts, he said. Once, when he came to, he was sitting on the couch and the movie was still on. He had his handgun on the coffee table and was showing Moore how to clean it, take it apart and put it back together.
"Everything went dark again," he said.
The next scene: He and Moore were in his bedroom. They were talking. He was holding the gun. She asked him to put it away and come to bed, he said.
"I told her to not worry. The gun was not loaded," he said. He pointed the gun at her and pulled the trigger. It went off.
"I grabbed her by her shoulders, looked into her eyes and knew Breanna was gone," Almeda said. "I lost it. I started screaming."
Almeda told detectives in 2014 that he was in the bathroom brushing his teeth when he heard a loud bang and found his girlfriend dead. On Tuesday, he said he had lied because he was scared.
Almeda apologized to Moore's family and his own family in the courtroom. He said he deeply regretted his actions. He told the judge he needed treatment.
"This is something none of us will never, ever get over and for that I am sincerely remorseful," he said.
On the prosecution side, Miovas had a different scenario to recount. He spoke of an intentional shooting.
Miovas said the couple arrived at the Almedas' house shortly after 10 p.m. Over the course of two hours, Almeda drank nearly an entire bottle of rum, Miovas said.
Moore had sent him text messages earlier that day saying she didn't like it when he drank. She said he had gotten "grumpy" at her the night before when she "wouldn't let him drink anymore," Miovas said.
"You'll see that Bree thought she could fix Josh. She would tell him, 'No more drinking. I don't like who you are when you're drinking. You're a different person when you're drinking,' " Miovas said.
At some point that night, Almeda got a text from his mother asking, "What are you doing?" He didn't answer, Miovas said. His mother took a sauna and a shower before lying down in bed. Then she heard her son shouting "Mom!" according to Miovas. She called 911 around 12:30 a.m.
Miovas said the bottle of rum was under the bed. He believed Moore had hid it from Almeda and he became enraged, pointed his gun at Moore and pulled the trigger.
"In a fit of rage, consistent with his disorder, he got very agitated very quickly," Miovas said.
Moore had put her arms over her head in defense. The bullet went through her arms and into her head — just below her eye — killing her, Miovas said.
In the courtroom Tuesday, Moore's ashes sat in a plastic bag, placed in a black box. When her older sisters, Brooke and Brandi Moore, spoke to the judge, they held the bag. That's all they have left of their youngest sister, Brooke told the judge.
"I can't call her. I can't talk to her. I can't tell her how much I need her," she said. "She's gone."
Both sisters said they had seen abusive behavior from Almeda in the past and confronted Breanna about it. Brooke said that at one point Breanna asked her if she had ever been hit by a boyfriend. Brandi said there was a side of her that knew what was going on, but didn't want to believe it.
"I didn't think she was going to die," she said as she started to sob. "You never point a gun at someone."
Breanna Moore's mother, Cindy, recounted for the judge the morning when police officers showed up at her home and told the family that her daughter had been killed. Her daughter was someone who could make her laugh like no one else could, she said.
"In the blink of an eye, my life as I knew it would cease to exist," she said. "My dear, beautiful Bree was gone."
The Almeda family spoke, too. Joshua Almeda's parents, Shannon and Phillip, said they felt like they had been silenced as their son's court case played out. Phillip Almeda said the death of Moore had affected both families. Shannon Almeda said Moore was at their home all the time. She said their son was "not always awful." But when he drank he became "very self-deprecating," she said. They tried to direct him to help, she said.
"If he was so bad, why did they allow her to spend every day with us?" she said.
She said she had no idea her son had a weapon or was drinking the night of the shooting. She said her family loved Moore. She made them laugh all the time and had even talked about moving into their home.
Miovas asked for the maximum sentence for Almeda, along with parole restrictions. Almeda's attorney, Andrew Lambert, said that the shooting was the result of reckless actions and physical evidence did not support the prosecution's theory.
While Volland gave Almeda a sentence of 75 years in jail, he said he declined to issue parole restrictions. He said he didn't know how Almeda would turn out after time in prison.
After the sentencing, Breanna Moore's father, Butch, said nothing would bring his daughter back, but he hoped something positive could come out of the family's story and Bree's Law. The Alaska Legislature passed a bill last session that provides education for teachers so they can recognize signs of sexual abuse and teach students about dating violence. It was an education program pushed for by the Moores and one they called Bree's Law.
"Through Bree's Law, hopefully Bree can save a lot of people's lives," Butch Moore said. "Bree was always destined to do something great."