Man sentenced in Alaska cold case

JUNEAU, Alaska — A man who long had been the suspect in the murder of a woman in Yakutat nearly 20 years ago was sentenced to serve 40 years in prison.

Robert D. Kowalski was sentenced Friday in Juneau Superior Court. Kowalski was convicted of killing Sandra Perry, 39, in 1996 while they were vacationing in Yakutat, shooting her with a shotgun during a dispute.

During the sentencing trial, which was remotely attended by Perry’s son Jeremy Padgett, Kowalski continued to say the shooting was an accident.

“I just want you to know that it was an accident and I did not do that on purpose,” Kowalski said. “I did not want to hurt your mother one way whatsoever. I’m very sorry.”

The 53-year-old was only charged with first-and second-degree murder in connection to Perry’s death because another one of his girlfriend’s died in a nearly identical fashion, causing the Yakutat case to be re-opened. Kowalski fatally shot Lorraine Kay Morin, 45, in Montana in 2008. Kowalski was convicted of homicide via an Alford Plea for Morin’s death.

During Kowalski’s monthlong trial in Juneau, prosecutors said Kowalski intentionally shot Perry with a 12-gauge shotgun after an argument in their room. The two had been drinking and smoking marijuana, testimony showed.

Prosecutors said Kowalski made up a story immediately after the shooting, claiming he picked up the gun because he thought he heard a bear outside, and that he tripped walking in the door, causing the gun to discharge and hit Perry in the face while she was reclining in bed.

The defense said the shooting was not intentional, and that the couple — whom witnesses described as love birds in what seemed as innocent as a high school romance — was not arguing at the time. The defense said there was never any doubt at the time that Kowalski did not shoot her intentionally, or else he would have been charged with a crime. Instead, Kowalski was cleared of any wrongdoing.

The Juneau jury was able to learn about the Montana case at trial, despite the defense’s attempts to keep it out of evidence. The jury ended up acquitting Kowalski of first-degree murder, meaning they could not find that Kowalski intentionally shot Perry. But they convicted him on second-degree murder for causing Perry’s death under circumstances “manifesting an extreme indifference to the value of human life.”

On Friday, the prosecutor, Assistant Attorney General James Fayette of the state’s Office of Special Prosecutions and Appeals, requested 50 years, while the defense attorney, Assistant Public Defender Eric Hedland, requested 10 years, or some of the time to run concurrently with the Montana case.

The judge ruled that the two 40-year sentences must be served back-to-back, rather than at the same time as the defense requested. Fayette said in an interview after the hearing that he was grateful for that ruling because he didn’t want Kowalski to get a “two-for-one discount.”

Padgett, who was 16 when his mother died and is now 34 with a wife and children of his own, said he wishes Kowalski no ill will or harm, although he said it’s shocking to think about “how many lives were hurt because of his carelessness.”

He made one request.

“The only thing I want, and my mother wants, and I know Morin wants, and her family,” he said to the judge, “is that this man can’t get out and destroy another family, that he is put behind bars. That way, he can’t hurt another woman.”

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Information from: Juneau (Alaska) Empire, http://www.juneauempire.com

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