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Thousands In Alaska Want To Unseat Judge After Man Gets No Prison Time For Assault


Our next story contains difficult content, including details of sexual violence. In Alaska, a man charged with kidnapping and choking a woman received no prison time through a plea deal last week. Public outcry followed, and now there's a campaign to unseat that judge. Alaska Public Media's Casey Grove reports.

CASEY GROVE, BYLINE: The victim was at an Anchorage gas station looking for a ride across town in August of last year. Justin Schneider took her instead to a spot where he choked her to unconsciousness and masturbated on her.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Thirty-four-year-old Justin Schneider pleaded guilty to a single felony assault charge.

GROVE: That's Anchorage TV station KTVA, the first to report the outcome of the case last week. It ended in a plea deal for a single second-degree assault charge. Schneider, heard here in court, got no prison time because of time served while wearing an ankle monitor living at home with his family.


JUSTIN SCHNEIDER: I would just like to emphasize how grateful I am for this process.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: All right, thank you, sir - appreciate those comments.

GROVE: The sentence was consistent with state law, but many Alaskans saw a court hearing that seemed disturbingly routine, especially given a white attacker and a native victim. In a state with a high rate of sexual assault 2 1/2 times the national average where more than half of those assaults involve native victims, many women especially saw the laws and the justice system failing them.

ELIZABETH WILLIAMS: I was just absolutely appalled. And I think there was very much the feeling of, here we go again.

GROVE: That's Anchorage resident Elizabeth Williams, who's organizing a campaign to unseat the judge, Michael Corey. Thousands of people joined her call to action on Facebook after the sentence was announced.

WILLIAMS: I think there's a very real sense of fear. It's a fear that we live with as women, you know, all the time. I would also say that there is a sense of rage.

GROVE: At the forefront of Alaskans' minds is the shocking kidnapping, sexual assault and murder of a 10-year-old native girl in a rural Alaska community earlier this month. Some have connected that case, the Schneider case and the #MeToo movement to the greater persistent issue of violence against women in Alaska. Victim advocate Keeley Olson says the Schneider plea deal seemed especially crazy.

KEELEY OLSON: This is the best that we could do for someone who was subjected to this level of violence and could have been killed? It's tragic.

GROVE: Olson is director of Standing Together Against Rape, a sexual trauma awareness and response center. She says they see more than 1,200 victims a year, and requests for their services have been skyrocketing.

OLSON: If the system isn't going to respond, then we have to do something. And we're fed up. Enough is enough.

GROVE: Still, prosecutors are defending the deal. Schneider agreed to sex offender treatment even though he was not, to the surprise of many, charged with a sex crime. John Skidmore heads the criminal division of Alaska's Department of Law, and he says he understands the anger.

JOHN SKIDMORE: I have young daughters. I would be truly horrified if this had occurred to them in the same way that it happened to the victim in this case. It wouldn't have changed the outcome that we could have achieved because the law needs to be fixed, but I'd be outraged by that.

GROVE: Elizabeth Williams agrees the laws should be tougher. But she says the response from the state simply isn't enough.

WILLIAMS: I think the laws are definitely a problem here in Alaska. But the judge's hands weren't tied. He could have done something different.

GROVE: And as it turns out, the six-year term for the judge at the heart of this is up for a vote in November. Williams and others continue to ask Alaskans for their no votes. For NPR News, I'm Casey Grove in Anchorage. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Casey Grove