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Walker v. Alaska Department of Corrections

United States District Court, D. Alaska

July 11, 2019




         Jonathan David Walker, a state prisoner then proceeding pro se, filed a Petition for a Writ of Habeas Corpus with this Court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. Docket No. 1. Walker is in the custody of the Alaska Department of Corrections and incarcerated at Wildwood Correctional Complex. After this Court, through a previously assigned judge, appointed counsel for Walker, counsel filed an Amended Petition (“Petition”). Docket No. 16. Respondent answered and opposed the Petition at Docket Nos. 19 and 26, and Walker replied and briefed the Petition's merits at Docket Nos. 21, 25, and 27.


         In 1998, Walker, then 17 years old, and two teenaged companions assaulted and beat to death Wesley Morton, a homeless man. During the sentencing hearing, Superior Court Judge Eric Smith described the crime as “a brutal, horrifying thing that was done to somebody who in no way caused it, [or] deserved it. . . . Mr. Walker stabbed Mr. Morton after he had been beaten to a pulp.” Docket No. 20-2 at 14. Walker was charged as an adult with first degree murder and evidence tampering. Docket No. 20-3 at 1-4. By agreement with the State, Walker pled no contest to murder in the first degree, and the State agreed to seek a sentencing maximum of 70 years rather than the statutory maximum of 99 years. See Docket No. 20-3 at 1-4; Alaska Stat. § 11.41.100(a)(1)(A); Alaska Stat. § 12.55.125. On January 21, 2000, Judge Smith sentenced Walker to a term of 70 years' imprisonment without restrictions on his parole eligibility. Because his sentence is less than the statutory maximum, Walker is eligible for discretionary parole after serving one-third of his sentence (23 years, 4 months) in 2023, when he will be 40 years old. See Alaska Stat. § 33.16.090(b)(1); Alaska Stat. § 33.16.100(a). If Walker does not forfeit any of his good time credit, he will also be entitled to mandatory parole after serving two-thirds of his sentence (46 years, 8 months) in 2046, when he will be 63 years old. See Alaska Stat. § 33.20.010; Alaska Stat. § 33.16.010; Alaska Stat. § 33.20.030.

         During the sentencing hearing, Judge Smith found by clear and convincing evidence the aggravating factors of employment of a dangerous instrument and deliberate cruelty. Judge Smith determined that neither the aggravating factors of vulnerability of the victim nor the mitigating factor of influence by a more mature person had been proven. Docket No. 20-2 at 4. Judge Smith noted, that when sentencing a defendant under Alaska Law, the Court had to take into account the following five factors: (1) rehabilitation; (2) special deterrence (deterrence of the offender); (3) general deterrence (deterrence of people in the community who might be tempted to do something similar); (4) community condemnation; and (5) isolation for the protection of society. Docket No. 20-2 at 14. With respect to his sentencing decision, Judge Smith commented:

In my mind the sentencing range is not determined solely by special deterrence and rehabilitation, it's also the difference between the 20 years and the 99 years, all five criteria come into play. . . . Mr. Walker stabbed Mr. Morton after he had been beaten to a pulp. It's about as bluntly as you can put it. Any sentence that the court imposes has to reflect that fact as a matter of community condemnation, as a matter [of] general deterrence and because Mr. Walker did what he did, there is a depth of violence in him . . . That requires some isolation. Anybody [that] can do that is very dangerous. There's just no way around it. . . . So the question is the extent to which rehabilitation and special deterrence would factor in in [sic] fashioning any less than a 99-year sentence because I also agree with Mr. Morton that this kind of crime can and has received that kind of sentence. I am not in the institutional position to deviate from what the legislature chooses to be the appropriate sentence in these cases, but I must work within that framework. The district attorney's analysis was that Mr. Walker's willingness to admit what he did indicated more positive possibilities for rehabilitation than other people in his position and that informed their decision to cap the amount of time that they would ask. [Defense Counsel] and Mr. Walker's family feel that a far more lenient sentence would be appropriate in light of defendant's age and prospects for rehabilitation.

Docket No. 20-2 at 14. Judge Smith issued his sentencing decision as follows:

Balancing all of these things it is my judgment that the 70-year cap in the district attorney's analysis was an appropriate one here. That what might otherwise be a 99-year sentence is appropriately mitigated you might say or reduced in light of the defendant's age and in light of his forthright acceptance of his responsibility for what he did. But I think anything less than that would be to [sic] defeat the criteria and the importance of community condemnation and general deterrence. Every single time I am involved in one the [sic] - as a judge in these murder cases it is so clear that one person dies and so many lives are destroyed. Not just the defendant's, the victim's families in many ways, the defendant's families. It was a tragedy that ripples out so far. And there's nothing I can say or do that will change that. I have an institutional role to fulfill by applying these criteria and fashioning a sentence that I think best fits these criteria.

Docket No. 20-2 at 14.

         Judge Smith specifically noted Walker's youth: “It is a difficult thing for a judge [to] pass judgment on an 18-year-old boy. He is still a boy. And not take that into consideration in making a decision.” Docket No. 20-2 at 14. Judge Smith further commented on Walker's prospect for rehabilitation:[2]

It's pretty clear to me that what happened to Mr. Walker was pretty inexcusable too. It doesn't in any way, shape or form excuse [for] what happened. He may have been placed in a place that he shouldn't have been placed, things may have been done to him that help turn him into somebody who could commit this brutal crime. . . . To me that plays into rehabilitation and special deterrence. . . . In my mind the potential for parole is another vehicle with respect to rehabilitation. For that reason, I will not reduce the sentence any less than 70 years. It places the onus entirely on the defendant to qualify for anything the Department of Corrections may feel will be appropriate in the way of parole.

Docket No. 20-2 at 14-15.

         After sentencing, Walker moved for reconsideration, which was denied on February 2, 2000. In denying the motion, Judge Smith noted, “[t]he Court did consider the factors raised by [Walker] and they played a role in the decision to accept the 70-year cap and not impose additional time.” Docket No. 20-8 at 5.

         Twelve years after Walker was sentenced, the United States Supreme Court decided Miller v. Alabama,567 U.S. 460 (2012). In Miller, the Supreme Court held that mandatory life imprisonment without parole (“LWOP”) for offenders under the age of 18 at the time of their crimes violates the Eighth Amendment's prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment. Id. at 470. In 2016, the Supreme Court further held that Miller announced a new substantive ...

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