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Wasilla man convicted of daughter's murder denies abuse

  • Author: Zaz Hollander
  • Updated: September 28, 2016
  • Published July 8, 2015

PALMER -- Clayton Allison, given his first chance to defend himself publicly since he was convicted in February of murdering his 15-month-old daughter, denied accusations of child abuse.

Allison's family and friends say daughter Jocelynn's September 2008 death came after she fell down the stairs and hit a chair while her father was unclogging a toilet. Prosecutors argue the toddler's injuries -- rib and leg bruises, dislocated neck vertebrae, eye hemorrhages, old and new brain bleeds and swelling -- came from abuse.

Allison's sentencing had been scheduled for Wednesday, but Palmer Superior Court Judge Vanessa White put off a decision until July 15 to review aspects of the complicated case, including a new psychiatric evaluation.

The 32-year-old Allison, asked if he wanted to speak on his own behalf during Wednesday's hearing, distanced himself from a 2009 confession in which he told investigators he slapped his daughter repeatedly to get her to eat, sometimes so hard her head smacked her high chair.

The jury voted to convict him without ever hearing the confession: White threw it out in 2012, ruling it wasn't voluntary because investigators kept pressing Allison even after he asked about an attorney during questioning.

Allison on Wednesday said grief and guilt prompted him to say things that weren't true that day in 2009.

"I may have made mistakes or referenced things that were blown out of proportion," he told a courtroom filled with emotional supporters, including his wife, Jocelynn's mother. "I know in my heart, no matter what anybody says, I did not kill my daughter."

But the prosecutor trying the case said Allison confessed not only to investigators but later to his family -- and asked investigators to back him up while he did so.

"Mr. Allison did try and come clean and express his actions and it was his family that stopped him," assistant district attorney Michael Perry said. "It was his family that refuses to believe. … It's a possibility they created an environment where Mr. Allison is trapped, perpetually unable to come clean or come to terms with what the evidence shows happened."

Allison's sentencing hearing drew a crowd of two dozen supporters, many wearing ribbons or green T-shirts with tiger-striped hearts and the message "Show your stripes for Clayton."

His wife, Christiane "C.J." Allison, told the judge she was the only person present to meet the statutory definition of "victim" in the case.

"The damage done by the parties involved in this investigation and the court proceedings is something I could not communicate in the precious minutes I will be allowed to speak today," Allison said, describing herself as tormented by investigators and vilified by the media.

Prosecutors lied about evidence and never proved that shaking or long-term abuse killed Jocelynn, she said. "I saw nothing in that time that has changed my opinion that my husband is an innocent man."

Allison's public defenders argued Wednesday for a 10-year sentence, which they consider the mandatory minimum for second-degree murder. Prosecutors argued for 30 years, based on the contention that Jocelynn's young age and Allison's authority over her should bump the minimum to 20 years and that additional time serves to deter other people from committing similar acts.

Prosecutors painted Allison as an overwhelmed young father who snapped.

Investigators say that during the 2009 confession, Allison told them his wife pressured him to make sure Jocelynn, who wasn't gaining weight, ate during the day.

One of the investigators involved, Alaska State Troopers Sgt. Mike Burkmire, sat through Wednesday's hearing.

Burkmire said Wednesday after the hearing that he and other investigators drove Allison home from the Wasilla police station that day in 2009.

Allison then invited them inside his Wasilla-area home because he wanted to tell his family what he'd done but was afraid of their reaction, Burkmire said. As the investigators stood on an inside landing listening, Allison told the people gathered upstairs what he had just told them and even brought out his daughter's high chair to demonstrate how he slapped her, Burkmire said.

But Allison's lawyer, Ariel Toft, reminded the judge during the sentencing hearing that the confession was "coerced" evidence that's not reliable.

"Someone can be intelligent and book smart and be coerced," she said. Family members say Allison wasn't acting like himself and kept looking at the officers as if for cues.

Toft noted that one in four people exonerated by The Innocence Project confessed, some in great detail, to "horrific crimes they didn't commit."

Allison's defense team portrayed him as a caring father raising a developmentally disabled child with potentially life-threatening but as-yet undiagnosed health issues including a chronic fluid buildup between her brain and her skull.

Allison has been physically attacked at Goose Creek Correctional Center, Toft said. He plays chess by phone with his father every Saturday. She said her client is a bright, devout, hopeful man surrounded by "sober, employed, polite people" and so has high potential for success post-incarceration.

A long prison sentence isn't the right punishment, Toft told the judge.

"Jocelynn is dead," she said. "And whatever you believe about how that happened, that's going to be the worst thing that's ever happened to Mr. Allison in his entire life. That is punishment."