FAIRBANKS (AP) -- A Nulato man convicted of second-degree murder for the fatal shooting of his brother last April was sentenced Wednesday to 23 years in prison.
David Esmailka, 42, was charged with first-degree murder after his brother, Crispin Esmailka Jr., 31, was killed by a gunshot wound to the abdomen on April 6 in the Esmailka family home in Nulato.
In October David Esmailka agreed to plead no contest to a reduced charge of second-degree murder, with the agreement that he could not be sentenced to more than 30 years to serve.
Both attorneys at the hearing in Fairbanks Superior Court Wednesday said the circumstances of the shooting remain murky. While one woman, a niece of both men, claimed to be an eyewitness, she gave so many conflicting accounts that Superior Court Judge Mary Greene said her testimony could not be relied upon.
''It's very difficult to tell what happened here,'' Greene said.
David Esmailka told Alaska State Troopers them he had been asleep when someone struck him in the head. He told troopers he grabbed his rifle, ran out of the bedroom and fired, not realizing until afterward that it was his brother he had shot.
Defender James Cannon said Esmailka couldn't remember many specifics of what happened. He said the memory loss may have been due, in part, to the fact that both brothers had been intoxicated at the time of the incident.
Cannon noted that David Esmailka had incurred extensive facial injuries at the time of the shooting and that a broken piece of wood, slightly thinner than a 2-by-2, had been found in the home.
''We suggest that he was hit by that piece of wood,'' he said, ''and that Crispin Esmailka was the one that did it.''
Prosecutor Jeff O'Bryant said it appeared David Esmailka had indeed been hit and that the incident had roused his anger. O'Bryant argued that whatever happened, David Esmailka's reaction -- he fired the rifle four times, hitting the victim once -- was far too extreme a response.
''There's something more than an accident that took place here,'' O'Bryant said.
In handing down the sentence, Greene said that David Esmailka appeared to be generally a nonviolent, good person. But she said the shooting was still uncalled for even if he had been provoked.
''It was clearly excessive to any justification that was presented,'' she said.
Esmailka was sentenced to a total of 30 years in prison with seven years suspended and eight years of probation.
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