Lyle Ludvick was sentenced Monday at the Kenai Courthouse to seven years in prison for a single charge of manslaughter.
On July 16, 2010, Ludvick, 44, of Soldotna, shot 23-year-old Brendan McGee in the head with a shotgun at close range over a $500 payment for a gun, according to state prosecutors.
McGee’s mother, Carolyn, exited the courtroom shortly after the sentencing began. She cried as she walked out of the courthouse. She did not see Ludvick’s own tears as he asked for forgiveness from her family.
The prosecution argued Ludvick brought the gun on the property, at minimum, to provoke the victim and highlighted past criminal offenses. Defense attorney Michael Moberly focused his argument on the disputed details surrounding the shooting and crime scene. Ludvick’s family attended the sentencing, and no one spoke on McGee’s behalf expect District Attorney Scot Leaders, who read Carolyn’s prepared statement in her absence.
Superior Court Judge Charles Huguelet’s sentence comes after more than two years of hearings. Ludvick’s original charges included two counts of second-degree murder, first-degree burglary, third-degree assault and tampering with physical evidence. The defense negotiated a plea agreement in January, and the state dropped the aforementioned charges.
Moberly attempted to argue an additional mitigator during the sentencing. He played a recording of Thomas Mason, witness to the murder and friend of McGee’s, answering Alaska State Troopers’ questions. Mason’s responses were recorded shortly after troopers arrived on scene following the shooting.
Mason is distressed during the recording, and he tells troopers, “I don’t know why Brendan jumped up at him. I don’t know what he intended to do.
“He looked like he (messed) up … I don’t think he came intending to shoot Brendan.”
Using the recording, Moberly argued his client reacted due to the victim’s spontaneous motion. His client was not hovering over McGee, as the state’s report indicted, but they were in close quarters, Moberly said.
“The provocation explains the reaction,” Moberly said.
Ludvick wiped sweat from his hands and brow as his defense attorney detailed their version of events.
Huguelet then asked if any past confrontations occurred between Ludvick and McGee. No tension existed, and Ludvick gave McGee a firearm for bear and personal protection, as the victim was indebted to some people, Moberly said. The defense attorney questioned his client about who provoked the argument to its heightened state and where exactly the shooting took place.
Ludvick said he brought his gun for bear protection. He unintentionally discharged the shotgun, he continued, when he turned around to investigate a rustling in some nearby bushes and returned to face McGee, who leapt in his direction.
He also said he stood outside the door at a distance of about 15 feet. Moberly corrected his client. There is a factual dispute, Moberly said, about whether the shooting occurred in a cabin, or whether Ludvick shot from outside the door of the cabin.
Before submitting the state’s proposed sentence, Leaders read Carolyn’s victim impact statement.
“‘I hope (Ludvick) is haunted everyday for shooting my son,’” Leaders read.
McGee’s brother and sister did not write their own statements, Carolyn believes, because they are unable to cope with their brother’s death, the note continued.
Leaders said the plea agreement was an appropriate resolution, asking for 11 years with four suspended, along with 10 years probation.
He did not agree with the story about Ludvick arming himself for bear protection. The defendant armed himself for the dispute, Leaders said.
“Certainly, he was reckless, if not knowing, that the pulling of the trigger pointed at the young man’s face would kill (McGee),” Leaders said.
Damage was consolidated to McGee’s jaw and face, he added.
A jury trial could have gone either way, both parties and Judge Huguelet agreed. The defendant would clearly have been identified as Ludvick. Mason pointed out Ludvick in a photo lineup with absolute certainty, Leaders said, and the first time he did so “it made him sick to his stomach.” Rather, the dispute would have centered on choosing appropriate charges.
The defense contended the incident would not have happened if not for McGee’s aggressive nature and substance abuse history, but it failed to mention Ludvick’s own propensity toward physical aggression, Leaders said.
The district attorney outlined Ludvick’s previous run-ins with the law; one of those incidents included hitting his son in the head with a firearm. But Ludvick was never convicted for any of the violent offenses. He was charged, however, with three DUIs during a short period of time. He also was struggling with his own substance abuse around the time of the shooting.
Substance abuse and anger management programs are appropriate, Leaders said.
Moberly said the prosecution’s argument was full of holes.
From day one, Ludvick wanted to tell his side of the story and let the McGee family know the shooting was accidental, he said. Moberly also questioned the state’s use of past offenses, stating the prosecution was “casting stones about 20-year-old offenses.”
Ludvick spoke at the sentencing — first to McGee’s family and then directly to the court.
He said he wanted the McGees to know what happened and how he felt about it.
“I’m very, very sorry and full of grief and remorse,” he said. “I spent many nights crying. I’m crying with you and for you. Please, hear my heart. It was an accident.”
He once more said the shotgun discharged by accident.
He would never again be a problem to anyone, anywhere, he added while addressing Huguelet.
Jerzy Shedlock can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.