As Superior Court Judge Anna Moran on Wednesday imposed the maximum manslaughter sentence of 20 years in prison, Jimmy Eacker sat silently while the victim’s family quietly sobbed.
Eacker, 58, was sentenced for killing a woman in Seward 30 years ago. Toni Lister was 29 when her body was found April 17, 1982, in the woods near the Seward city dump. After a 2010 murder sentence of 99 years in prison was thrown out due to withheld evidence, Eacker pleaded guilty to manslaughter in December 2011.
Lister’s family was disappointed when Eacker’s first, lengthier sentence was dropped but content with the judge’s new sentence, said Heather Green, Lister’s youngest daughter.
“The fact that the judge considered the 20-year max and gave it to him with only two years suspended, we’re happy with that,” she said. “Hopefully, he’ll spend the majority of his time left in prison.”
The family exited the courtroom in each other’s arms as the defendant began his escort back to Wildwood Correctional Center. To support the maximum sentence, Moran emphasized the violent nature of Lister’s death.
Green said the prolonged resolution finally would give her closure. She is an Army 1st sergeant and was stationed in Iraq during Eacker’s first trial. Her hope has persisted that a conclusion was close, she said.
“For me to come back, speak and see him, it was a lot of closure for me,” Green said. “Now is the time for us to put (my mother) to rest and know that she’s at peace and continue on with our lives.”
However, she was disappointed when Eacker offered no comment following both parties’ closing remarks. Eacker had a chance to show sympathy but failed, she said.
“I really wanted him to say something, like ‘I’m sorry for the loss of your mother,’” she said. “Anything that would’ve given me the idea that he’s human would’ve been nice.
“I think that he might have been moved a little by me, because he actually had to see me in front of him. It was likely an eye opener (for Eacker), but he’s not sorry for the crime.”
Moran said as much during her sentencing. The defendant displayed little remorse for his crime by refusing to offer apology, she said.
A longer sentence was imposed for several reasons, the most significant being that the defendant committed a more serious offense than the one for which he was sentenced.
Also, a collision of laws and facts from 1982 affected the proceedings. During that time, the court offered more lenience to first-time felony offenders. Judges imposed harsher sentences if the case included exceptional circumstances, Moran said.
She said she believed Eacker’s crime fulfilled those circumstances.
“I want to remind everyone what it means to stab someone 26 times,” she said, referring to the attack Lister endured. Moran counted to 26 before the court, taking her time to emphasize the duration of the attack.
Eacker will receive credit for time served awaiting trial. He was arrested in late August 2007 in Fairbanks, where he had been living for several years. His probation will last 10 years.
Paul Miovas, state cold case prosecutor, thanked the court for its decision telephonically from Anchorage.
“I want to thank your diligence and your articulation of the ruling,” he said.
Jerzy Shedlock can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.