David Forster waits for discussion of his case to begin in Kenai superior court Wednesday.
Photo by M. Scott Moon
Citing the "execution-style slaying" of Kenai police officer John Watson, Superior Court Judge Donald Hopwood on Tuesday, sentenced David Forster to the maximum allowable under Alaska law.
Forster, 35, of Kenai, was ordered to prison for 99 years for first-degree murder and for three years on three counts of third-degree assault. Two of the assault sentences are to be served concurrently, leaving Forster a total of 101 years to serve in prison.
A Kenai jury convicted Forster in June of murdering Officer Watson in the Kenai VIP Subdivision on Christmas Day 2003.
During the course of the trial, jurors learned that Watson had been sent to the Forster residence to check on the welfare of Forster's fiancee, Crystal Hallman.
Forster and Hallman had stopped at the Birch Ridge Golf Course in Soldotna seeking lodging. The golf course has some summer rentals available, but none in winter.
The family of golf course owners Pat and Myrna Cowan were finishing Christmas dinner when the couple arrived, and several testified in court that Forster's behavior was odd.
They also believed Hallman, who appeared to them to be 18 years old, might be in danger from Forster. Hallman was actually 21 at the time.
Cowan family members called 911, and Alaska State Troopers asked for Kenai police assistance. Watson was sent to the Forster residence to check on Hallman's welfare.
Upon his arrival, Watson reported that Forster's vehicle was not there.
As he was leaving the subdivision, however, he spotted Forster arriving in a brand new Ford Excursion and turned around, attempting to stop the vehicle.
Forster did not stop and continued on into his driveway on Watergate Way with Watson following.
Watson and Forster argued and, according to Hallman, Watson radioed for backup and attempted to arrest Forster.
Forster, however, managed to get hold of Watson's .45-caliber semiautomatic pistol, shot him once in the back with the bullet lodging in Watson's Kevlar vest, and then fatally shot him in the top of the back of his head. That bullet lodged in Watson's skull above the left eye socket.
During her closing statement, Kenai District Attorney June Stein said Forster told trooper investigator Jane Schied, "And I just put it on top of his head and said, 'Goodbye Brother.'"
Following the shooting, Forster went into his house, where he remained for four hours before finally surrendering to police without further incident. Hallman had fled from the home earlier, unharmed.
In addition to finding Forster guilty of one count of first-degree murder, the jury of eight women and four men found him guilty on three counts of third-degree assault two against other responding Kenai police officers and one against Hallman and not guilty on one third-degree assault charge.
In sentencing Forster, Hopwood retold evidence presented during the trial that showed Watson was on his knees when Forster shot him once in the back and once in the back of the head, and Forster had Watson's weapon, leaving the officer unarmed.
"The fatal shot was deliberately placed. The purpose was to kill," said Hopwood. "This was not a spur-of-the-moment killing.
"He killed without hesitation.
"Mr. Forster could have stopped at any point, but he did not," Hopwood said.
The judge said there is a certain amount of anger present in Forster and violence often accompanies it. He also said Forster's history shows signs of hostility.
"The level of danger in this type of person is high; the potential of rehabilitation is low," Hopwood said.
Another factor he said he needed to consider in sentencing is the effect the criminal acts have on the community.
Hopwood said Forster's acts not only affect the Kenai community in which Watson "was a long-time, well-respected officer, well-liked by family and friends," but also adversely affect the Kenai Peninsula, the state of Alaska, the country and other countries governed by the rule of law.
Following sentencing, Hopwood told Forster he has the right to appeal the sentencing as well as the convictions.
Anchorage defense attorney John Murtagh said he planned to file an appeal "at least as to the admissibility of statements" relative to the conviction.
During his opening arguments in the trial, Murtagh said Forster had been in a fight with the devil, firing a shotgun blast into a bedroom wall and then stuffing a sock in the hole to keep the devil out, then stabbing his couch, again supposedly in a fight with the devil.
He also said Forster carved a cross in his chest with a knife.
Statements about Satan and about the fight with the devil did not come out in witness testimony.
Murtagh said he did not expect to have an answer on the statements' admissibility until 2007.
Stein said she thought Hopwood's sentence was "appropriate, very well reasoned and supported by the facts of the case."
"The (Watson) family has been looking forward to this day, as have we all," Stein said.
Kathy Watson, the officer's widow, said she was happy the sentence was 101 years.
"I'm glad nothing less was given," Kathy Watson said.
In a victim impact statement prior to sentencing, Lt. Kim Wannamaker, who served on the Kenai police force with Watson for 14 years, said he had seen Watson as he came on shift on Christmas Day.
Wannamaker said the two said, "Hi," to one another, exchanged Christmas greetings and shook hands.
"Eight hours after shaking his hand and saying, 'I'll see you tomorrow,' I did see him lying dead in the driveway of 2535 Watergate Way," Wannamaker said.
"If ever the maximum sentence was called for, to protect the sense of freedom and security we are entitled to, this would be the time," Wannamaker told the court.
Before being sentenced, Forster, who did not testify in his own defense during the trial, said he wanted to make a statement to the court.
"The tragedy that took place on Christmas of 2003, I'll carry heavy like a cross the rest of my life, no matter if I'm in prison ... or outside living a healthy life," Forster said.
"I can't explain the pain I've gone through in solitary lockdown (at the Wildwood Pretrial Facility where he's been kept since the killing), but it can't compare to Officer Watson's," he said.
He said he is not a dangerous person, he is not a murderer, he is a good person inside.
"I never wanted to take a life," Forster said.
"I wish to tell all the family and friends of Officer Watson I'm so deeply sorry for my actions especially you, Miss Kathy Watson," Forster said.
Hopwood said the question for sentencing is not whether Forster is a bad person.
"In fact, many things in his life indicate he is a good person," Hopwood said.
However, he said the evidence presented in the case supports the jury's verdict and "there are no mitigating circumstances."
Following sentencing, Wannamaker said he agreed with everything the judge said in sentencing Forster.
"He delivered a good amount of wisdom in handing down his decision," Wannamaker said.
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