A Kenai judge has granted a retrial for alleged murderer Jimmy Eacker, ruling the state withheld exculpatory DNA evidence during the 2010 trial.
Judge Anna Moran delivered her verdict on Friday morning, stating that when prosecuting attorney Pat Gullufsen failed to divulge an expert's report containing information that pointed to another possible killer, he breeched certain ethical and legal rules.
"The impression left with the court and the defense was that there was no report because the testing had not been concluded," Moran said. "That turned out to be untrue."
Moran called Gullufsen's conduct "troubling" and "disturbing," and stated that despite the defense and the court specifically requesting the report on multiple occasions, and Gullufsen explicitly denied the existence of any such report.
"The decision to order a new trial is not done lightly," Moran said, "but is necessary in order to preserve the integrity of the criminal justice system and to ensure the defendant, the community, and the victim in this case have confidence that the due process protections of the United States and Alaska constitutions have not been compromised."
"The court apologizes to the defendant, to the victim's family, to the 14 jurors who sacrificed time from their busy schedules to perform their civic duties," she added.
Eacker was convicted in March 2010 of fatally stabbing 29-year-old Lister in 1982 and leaving her body at the Seward garbage dump.
Lister's two sisters and other family members were present for the ruling, and some broke down in tears of frustration when Moran reached the crux of her 20-minute long statement.
"You know, I just have so much faith in God I really thought it was going to go our way," said Barb Davis, Lister's 55-year-old sister. "I'm really shocked."
Lister's niece, though, was not necessarily taken aback by the verdict.
"I don't know that we're totally surprised," said Tonja Updike. "We're glad she didn't completely throw it out. That was our biggest fear."
Updike said that she still very much respects Gullufsen and thinks he did his job very well, but that it is unfortunate his misstep invalidated the entire trial and conviction.
"It's more painful when you have to sit here and listen to the same things over and over again," she said of the impending retrial. "Hopefully it will be faster, but it's no less painful."
"I don't know if I'm going to be able to handle it," Davis added. "I'm going to try because I don't want my little sister taking it all on."
The overwhelming sentiments, though, were felt on both sides of the courtroom.
"Jimmy and I both had a difficult time not crying in court," defense attorney Benjaman Adams said. "I know I was certainly struggling with my emotions. I've always believed Jimmy was innocent, and I believe that now."
Adams lamented that the state did not play by the rules in the first place, and while he was initially aiming for complete dismissal of the charges brought against Eacker, he is happy that Moran deemed a retrial necessary.
Moran said she anticipates this trial will take less time than the first one, but still predicts it will be a three to four week-long affair.
A status hearing to determine who will try the case for the state is scheduled for Feb. 23.
Karen Garcia can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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