A jury seven months ago found the patriarch of a well-known group of Anchorage running prodigies guilty of shooting his wife to death in their Turnagain home in 2010, but whether Robert Luch was prone to manipulating and dominating the rest of his family might remain forever a mystery.
Luch's four children formed a united front behind their father throughout the trial and sentencing. All four staunchly defended him, claiming he was full of love and compassion. They fiercely opposed the prosecution's characterizations that he was controlling and manipulative.
"The reality is (the court) knows nothing of my father or how my family functions," Luch's daughter Delia told the judge. "The only people who know how Robert Luch and how my family functions are me and my siblings."
Deputy District Attorney Clint Campion was frustrated by the actions of the children.
"The four children should be embarrassed they didn't stand up for their mother," he said.
Luch, 65, was sentenced to 60 years in prison Monday for the first-degree murder of his wife, Jocelyn. He could be paroled in 20 years if he lives that long. Prosecutors asked for the maximum sentence of 99 years, while Luch's attorney, Chad McGrady, requested the minimum of 20.
Anchorage Superior Court Judge Jack Smith settled on 60 years following two hours of testimony from Luch, his four children – Brent, Letitia, Marcelyn and Delia – and his wife's sister, Eleanor Moore.
Smith, in his sentencing, noted Luch's lack of previous problems with the law, but added that the court had to consider to the societal implications of a lenient ruling.
Though Campion didn't get the sentence the state wanted, he conceded "it's a significant sentence. It sends the right message that people in his age category are not immune from a long sentence."
The court, he told the judge, had "ample opportunity to see the family dynamics at play.''
Desperate for control
In February, Robert Luch was judged guilty of shooting his wife, Jocelyn, to death in the bathroom of the family's Turnagain home on Sept. 28, 2010. Prosecutors said he bought a .38-caliber Ruger revolver 11 days earlier with plans to kill her because she was breaking free of his influence.
No one disputed that he pulled the trigger. Instead lawyers argued over intent during the trial, a distinction that can make a difference a between a conviction of murder or a lesser charge such as manslaughter or negligent homicide. The senior Luch contended that on the night of the shooting he was filled with a jealous rage, but did not intend to shoot his wife. Her death, he claimed, was an accident.
Prosecutors made much of his need to maintain control.
At trial, Luch testified he managed the family like the chairman of a board of directors. It was efficient. The family became well-known for its running exploits. At ages as young as 8, the children would routinely best adults in running races across Alaska. They often showed up in matching, brightly colored uniforms.
But away from the running scene, the family lived an isolated life. The children were schooled privately and not allowed to watch TV. They could often be spotted around Anchorage running trails and tracks instead, with their father monitoring their performances as a coach.
During the trial, defense attorneys questioned the behavior of Jocelyn. The Luchs' marriage was falling apart and Robert was becoming increasingly suspicious of his wife, they said. The night of the shooting, Robert Luch had driven to the popular Tuesday night race series, looking for Jocelyn.
He did not find her until he returned home and shot her. Police found Jocelyn bleeding on the bathroom floor. She lived long enough to tell authorities her husband shot her because they were getting a divorce. Two days later, she died.
Audio of her last interview was played during the trial. Prosecutors said that audio was part of what made the case so strong.
Throughout the trial and at the sentencing hearing, the four Luch children – now all in their early 20s – sat behind their father. On Monday, he smiled and nodded to his children as he walked into the courtroom wearing handcuffs and a bright yellow Goose Creek Correctional Center uniform. He often glanced back at them.
Where the family dynamics stand today was left unclear during the sentencing. Eleanor Moore, Jocelyn's sister, was the first and only victim to speak for the prosecution. Following her statement, the children and Robert Luch condemned her, saying that Jocelyn Luch wasn't on speaking terms with Moore in the weeks before her death. The senior Luch testified that Jocelyn had intentions to fly to the Philippines and "expose" Moore for spreading lies.
The family even questioned the exact relation of Moore to Jocelyn, saying they believed she was not Jocelyn's sister but instead her uncle's daughter.
Moore, speaking by phone from Florida, defended her sister. Moore said that in five years she lived with the Luch family she bore first-hand witness to Jocelyn's emotional and physical abuse by Robert. Moore, then age 14, even accused Robert Luch of sexually assaulting her when she lived with the family. That prompted a harsh outburst from the senior Luch.
"That's a damned lie! You're a liar!" Luch yelled.
No sexual assault charges were ever filed against Robert Luch.
All for love
In his statement to the court, the senior Luch said he suffers constant remorse over the events that led to the shooting.
"If I had gave (Jocelyn) the love and attention she wanted, I don't think any of this would have happened," he said.
Luch also underlined the love he had for his children, but he fought the suggestion that he was a dangerously controlling man.
"(Campion) thinks I'm a manipulator," Luch said during his statement. "Well I have a truth for him – I manipulate (my children) through love."
Luch said that the whole family was put together with a lot of love, including his wife's "which still bonds'' the family together every day.
"It's still part of our lives," he told the judge. "Isn't that right kids?"
All four nodded, simultaneously and furiously.
After the sentencing, Campion stood by his statement that the children should be embarrassed by their actions, but added he sensed early on that the children remained under the influence of their father.
Campion noted that none of them shed a tear for their mother during the sentencing. At least now, with the sentencing over, he said, the family can begin to move forward.
Contact Suzanna Caldwell at suzanna(at)alaskadispatch.com