Eacker awaits sentence for manslaughter

Sentencing began at the Kenai Courthouse Tuesday for a crime committed 30 years ago.


Jimmy Eacker is charged with killing Toni Lister, who was 29 when her body was found April 17, 1982, in the woods near the Seward city dump. After a 2010 sentence of 99 years in prison was thrown out due to withheld evidence, he pleaded guilty to manslaughter in December 2011.

The courtroom was packed with Lister's family and friends, as well as the defendant's friends and half brother.

Heather Green, Lister's youngest daughter, sobbed as she offered comment to the court. She was 5 years old when her mother was killed, and although she had ideas about what happened, nothing prepared her for the details that emerged during years of court proceedings, she said.

"Jimmy Eacker threw our mother away like she was a piece of trash," she said. "I wonder if he's remorseful. We don't believe he is."

The sentencing began early Tuesday morning with the parties arguing case law and the defense calling seven witnesses to the stand. Paul Miovas, state cold case prosecutor, focused his arguments on the violent nature of the killing and argued the maximum 20-year sentence.

During the prosecution's closing arguments, Miovas reiterated that any of the case's aggravating factors -- for example, a dangerous instrument like a screwdriver -- that exist should weigh on the severity of the sentence.

Citing a handful of Alaska cases, he asked the court for a longer sentence based on an alleged prolonged assault, the brutality indicated by the victim's wounds and the possibility for recidivism by Eacker.

Lister had been sexually assaulted and stabbed in the chest, head and neck with a screwdriver, according to authorities.

"After reviewing all the cases with upward deviation (of jail time), those are not as brutal as Eacker's crime," he said. "This isn't manslaughter, but (second-degree murder) at the least."

The parties disagreed on the conditions of the plea agreement. Miovas argued the aggravators of the case indicate, despite negotiations, that the crime warranted a murder charge. Once the single, agreed upon piece of evidence is proven other aggravators should be considered, he said.

He said the state was pursuing a "worst offender" finding.

The defense, a team of three from the Kenai Public Defender's Office, argued there was no discussion of considering other aggravators, such as two witnesses who alleged during the previous sentencing that Eacker sexually assaulted them.

Defense attorney Tracey Wollenberg also said she recognized overlap among laws set out by the Alaska Legislature and the state's pursuit of worst offender.

Superior Court Judge Anna Moran decided, based upon the limited, available information about the plea agreement, the defendant picked his aggravator to allow consideration of a 20-year sentence.

The defense said during closing arguments that balance was needed in Eacker's sentence.

Witnesses were asked repeatedly if they saw Eacker consuming alcohol. The defendant gave up alcohol in the early 1990s, they said. The defense also pointed questions toward Eacker's work ethic and social abilities.

Evidence presented during sentencing supports the idea that Eacker already has been rehabilitated, Wollenberg said.

"This is not the same Jimmy Eacker from 1982," she said. "This is the Mr. Eacker of 2012.

"He's a 58-year-old man in severe declining health. The 20-year sentence gives no recognition to his rehabilitation."

A key witness of the defense was Dr. Paul Turner, a Central Peninsula clinical psychologist. Turner was requested by the defense to assess Eacker's risk for future acts of violence.

Interviews, a test and documents were used in the assessment, Turner said. He concluded Eacker did not have a personality disorder and his upbringing was fairly good. Therefore, the defendant was below average for risk of violence, he said.

Eacker scored a one out of five on the psychological test, or about 17 percent at risk. He scored a one because of past problems with substances.

If he was to start drinking again that risk would increase, Turner admitted during cross-examination.

"Part use is a risk factor, period," he said. "Clinically, however, his abstinence is a significant factor that lowers that risk."

Miovas argued other similar tests, which assess the propensity for sexual assault, were not used. The single test failed to address additional factors, he said.

Longtime friend and Eacker's employer Terrance McLean also was called as a witness. McLean owned a liquor store in which Eacker worked for about four years. He employed the defendant through odd jobs like snow plowing, too.

McLean spoke highly of his friend and lamented the killing the Lister. Eacker suffered a heart attack and was unable to pay $350 per month for rent for three years, McLean recalled.

The money eventually was paid back in full, he said.

"I trusted him like a brother," he said. "None of us in Fairbanks could believe it when the state took him away."

Eacker was arrested in late August 2007 in Fairbanks, where he had been living for several years.

A sentence of 20 years was a gift, Miovas said. He added he declined to pressure the defense's witnesses because there are always two possibilities.

"He's probably not all that bad, judge," Miovas said. "But he did what he did.

"All those ... good times described by his friends are events after the murder, events that the Listers missed out on. He robbed that family of a mother."

Eacker refused to comment before the court following closing arguments.

Judge Moran will impose her sentence 10 a.m. today at the Kenai Courthouse.

Green urged the judge to hand down the maximum sentence.

"I cannot wait for this trail to end and justice to be served," she said.

Eacker wiped tears from his eyes as Lister's youngest daughter shared her sorrows.

Jerzy Shedlock can be reached at jerzy.shedlock@peninsulaclarion.com.