Manslaughter plea stops murder trial

Posted: Tuesday, September 24, 2002

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- A homicide involving allegations of sexual abuse by the victim has been resolved on the eve of trial. The deal came following a claim that the death occurred by accident during an attempted citizen's arrest.

Defendant Louie Crandall agreed to plead no contest to manslaughter. The murder trial for the former military policeman and civilian security guard was scheduled to begin Tuesday.

Crandall, 28, now admits he played a role in the 1998 death of Gabe Jost. Crandall became a suspect in Jost's death in September 1998, when Jost disappeared after going for a ride with Crandall.

Family members and friends knew Crandall believed Jost had sexually abused Crandall's 2-year-old daughter.

Some claimed Crandall admitted killing Jost, whose decomposed body bobbed to the surface of a lake in spring 1999.

There was circumstantial evidence against Crandall, but it was deemed insufficient to charge him. The investigation languished.

Then a new homicide unit revisited Jost's death.

Last Christmas, police arrested Crandall and charged him with first-degree murder.

He was accused of deliberately drowning Jost in retaliation for the alleged child abuse.

Crandall always knew he was the primary suspect. Over the years he kept his mouth shut and hired Jim McComas, one of the best defense attorneys in Alaska.

With Crandall, McComas decided to break the usual rules.

''This is a case where you need to understand the background,'' he said. He needed the judge to admit normally inadmissible details about Jost's past, including evidence that the abuse really happened and Jost's criminal record -- things that might make Crandall's story more plausible to a jury.

McComas expected assistant district attorney Jay Fayette to argue that Crandall turned vigilante and killed an innocent man.

According to a written narrative filed by McComas, it all began on New Year's Eve 1996-97, when Louie and Evangelina Crandall went to Chilkoot Charlie's, where Crandall worked security, leaving their two children in the care of Evangelina's sister and Jost.

The next day, the Crandalls' 2-year-old daughter said Jost had hurt her. The Crandalls called police, and according to McComas, a hospital examination found evidence of sexual abuse.

The Crandalls went to the police, who concluded there was not enough proof to bring charges.

Two years later, on Sept. 21, 1998, Evangelina Crandall and her daughter ran into Jost at a supermarket.

Angry words were exchanged, and eventually Louie Crandall caught up with Jost and a companion at another store. There, according to Crandall, Jost admitted the child abuse. Crandall drove Jost to his own home, ''hoping to get Jost to repeat his admissions to a second witness.''

But Jost didn't.

Crandall and Jost then left in Crandall's car, and Jost was never seen alive again.

It is unclear from the record why homicide investigators who re-examined the case in 2001 decided to file a murder charge. The case remained circumstantial. But a grand jury indicted Crandall.

Then, on Sept. 12, just a few days before the trial was set to begin, McComas filed a narrative that said Jost died during a struggle with Crandall while Crandall was trying to make a citizen's arrest on the child abuse charge.

Jost had confessed, and Crandall was trying to take him in, McComas said.

Crandall was a trained peace officer, an ex-Marine who had made many arrests, McComas said. But somehow during the struggle Jost ended up dead. McComas didn't go into detail but would say only that it was not a deliberate drowning.

Crandall then panicked and ''sank Jost's body in the lake instead of notifying the authorities,'' McComas said.

Prosecutor Fayette concluded that manslaughter was the ''likely outcome'' if the case went to trial. So the offer was made, and accepted, and the books can close on a 4-year-old homicide.

Sentencing is set for Oct 10. Crandall faces 2 1/2 to 20 years in prison.

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