Stacey Allen Graham, 33, was sentenced Friday to 32 years in prison for one of the most infamous drunken-driving murders in recent memory -- the 2013 killing of two teen girls walking on a South Anchorage sidewalk after a back-to-school shopping trip.
After an emotional sentencing hearing, in which the victims' families testified, Superior Court Judge Kevin Saxby said he believed the sentence he pronounced was the longest in Alaska's history for "conduct of this type." He imposed two consecutive 20-year sentences, each with four years suspended, for the two counts of second-degree murder to which Graham had pleaded guilty.
"I don't want her death to be in vain," said Gary McPheters, the father of one of the two girls, Brooke McPheters. Facing Graham and the defense table, McPheters said: "I don't hate you. I'm disappointed as a father."
Brooke McPheters was placed in gifted school programs from a young age and volunteered countless hours to nonprofits when she entered middle school, her father said.
Assistant district attorney Daniel Shorey asked for the maximum sentence of 40 years. Graham's defense attorney, Reginald Christie, argued that the state was seeking retribution, not justice, with its recommendation.
The crimes date back to a Friday evening in August 2013 when Graham sped in his Toyota Tacoma pickup after bouts of heavy drinking at a company golf tournament and afterward at a friend's house. Graham's blood-alcohol content was more than two times the legal limit, according to court documents.
VIDEO: Mothers react after sentencing in daughters' killing by DUI driver
Graham lost control of his truck where Dimond Boulevard curves into Abbott Road near the Independence Park neighborhood in South Anchorage. Prosecutors say Graham swerved onto a sidewalk and struck McPheters and Jordyn Durr, both 15, as they strolled home. After the truck crashed into the girls, it hit a large, wooden business sign before coming to rest on its side.
Durr and McPheters died at the scene.
The wreck injured Graham, who made an initial court appearance four days later with a swollen and bruised left eye, flanked by two prison officers. The state charged Graham with two counts of second-degree murder, two counts of manslaughter and driving under the influence.
The girls' deaths were part of a string of drunken-driving fatalities. In the aftermath, the Anchorage Police Department stepped up DUI enforcement with the help of citizen volunteers. Those other deaths were noted during Friday's sentencing.
As part of a plea deal in October, prosecutors dismissed the DUI and manslaughter charges, leaving two more serious murder counts. Deputy District Attorney Clint Campion said Graham faced a sentence of 26 to 40 years.
Anchorage police officers were the first to testify Friday. Sgt. John McKinnon said he was the on-duty officer who responded to the crash. He has responded to similar calls hundreds of times, he said, but the girls' deaths rank as his most difficult experience. He said that at the time he felt disgusted by "how the community once again was being victimized by alcohol."
Police Chief Mark Mew called the city's impaired drivers a "scourge." Durr and McPheters weren't the first or last drunken-driving victims of 2013, he said. Graham wasn't responsible for other deaths, but he's part of the problem, Mew said.
According to Mew, DUI deaths have increased annually since 2012. That year there was one death. In 2013, there were five, and last year 11. Mew vowed to continue devoting police resources to "stop the few who put others in danger."
"Maybe, just maybe, we can scare a drunk into taking a cab," he said.
Before the victims' parents spoke, video slideshows of the girls were shown in the courtroom. Sentimental pop, rock and country songs played behind pictures of Durr and McPheters. The photos showed the girls at birthday parties and on vacations with family. Muffled cries filled the room as the slideshows played. Graham wept.
Shanna McPheters, Brooke's mother, said she felt sorry for her husband and sons. They would never grow old alongside Brooke, she said.
Anchorage also suffered a loss, Shanna McPheters added. She said she was "sorry for the community, because (Brooke) was such a selfless and giving soul."
Graham's parents attended the hearing as well. They asked Judge Saxby to recognize that their son was a good man who made a fatal mistake.
When it was his turn, Graham deeply inhaled before addressing the court. He apologized to his victims' families, as well as the other drivers he put in danger on the roadway.
Graham said that during his time in prison, he's met other offenders serving time for DUI convictions, many of whom believe they'll never be in his shoes. He said he tries to get the prisoners to see the errors of their ways.
"I work for them now," Graham said, referring to Durr and McPheters.
Shorey, the prosecutor, argued Graham's rehabilitation was less important than community condemnation and reaffirmation of societal norms, all factors for Alaska judges to consider when forming sentences.
He said Superior Court Judge Philip Volland erred when he handed down a 20-year sentence for Lori Phillips, a 58-year-old who repeatedly got into trouble for drunken driving and eventually killed a driver in a head-on Seward Highway collision. The judge failed to correctly address the correct sentencing factors, such as deterrence, Shorey said.
The prosecutor argued 40 years behind bars fit the crime.
Defense attorney Christie likened Graham's actions to those of Lane Douglas Wyatt, 24, a former airman from Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson. Wyatt was sentenced to 18 years in December for killing 20-year-old Citari Townes-Sweatt in another 2013 drunken-driving accident.
Christie argued Wyatt's offense was more severe because friends tried to stop him from driving. Testimony did not suggest anyone tried to stop Graham.
Judge Saxby said he recognized Graham's remorse and acceptance of responsibility for the murders. However, Saxby disagreed with the defense's remarks that Graham was a youthful offender. Graham was old enough to avoid impulsive behaviors, he said.
After the decades-long sentence was handed down, Dayna Durr approached Graham's parents. She said outside the courtroom that she talked about moving forward with them. She said she turned to Graham, who was standing nearby, behind the bar. She asked him to "do what you need to do." She said she told Graham she forgave him.