On the day he was scheduled to go on trial for first-degree murder in the death of Mephibosheth "Moshe" Wilkinson, Leonard Wallace, 49, pleaded no contest to second-degree murder.
A jury trial was to have begun in Homer on Monday morning, but in a last-minute deal with Kenai District Attorney June Stein, Abigail Sheldon, Wallace's Wasilla attorney, agreed that in return for a maximum sentence of 25 years in prison, Wallace would plead to the lesser charge.
"The family was very anxious to have some closure and some resolution," Stein said. "Here there's not a possibility of an appeal or a jury reversal. Now we have a certain conviction."
Wilkinson, 29, was shot and killed the evening of Aug. 7, 2004, in the parking lot of the Carl E. Wynn Nature Center near Mile 2.5 of East Skyline Drive.
Father Paul Jaroslaw of the All Saints of America Antiochian Mission off Skyline Drive knew Wilkinson. Wilkinson came to Homer about nine years ago from Fresno, Calif., to live at All Saints. Jaroslaw held services for Wilkinson and he was buried at the mission.
"Lord have mercy," he said of the plea. "For Leonard Wallace's sake, I pray for his own genuine repentance in his life and that he turns his life around, God willing."
A woman who identified herself as Wilkinson's sister at the home of his mother, Sandi Wilkinson, had harsher words.
"It's b- s-," she said of the plea. "I hope (Wallace) dies there."
According to Alaska State Troopers, at about 7:45 p.m. on Aug. 7, a Homer woman reported a man came to the porch of her home on East Skyline Drive about a half mile from the Wynn Nature Center and told her he had just shot someone.
Troopers arrested Wallace at the woman's home.
Troopers and Homer police found Wilkinson with a single gunshot wound to the head next to Wallace's GMC pickup truck in the parking lot. They found a .22-caliber, five-shot derringer on the dashboard of Wallace's truck that had been shot three times. Homer Volunteer Fire Department emergency medical technicians took Wilkinson to South Peninsula Hospital and were preparing to medivac him to Anchorage when Wilkinson was pronounced dead at 11:32 p.m.
Wallace was later indicted by the Kenai Grand Jury for first-degree murder.
Wallace will be sentenced in Homer by Judge Harold Brown on Feb. 27. The family has an opportunity to speak or present a statement at the sentencing, Stein said. Brown still must approve the agreement.
First-degree and second-degree murder are both unclassified felonies with a sentence of up to 99 years in prison. Under the agreement, Wallace could receive the maximum sentence, but he will serve no more than 25 years of active jail time. Any sentence more than 25 years would count as suspended time, with Wallace facing probation after his release.
"I feel that the 25 years, were the judge to give it, is in conformity with comparable cases," Stein said.
Stein said the main difference between first-degree and second-degree murder is the intent of the killer. A person is guilty of first-degree murder if it can be shown he intended to kill his victim. He is guilty of second-degree murder if the killer knows his conduct is substantially certain to cause a person serious injury or death and he causes that person's death.
Under Alaska law, a defendant can offer intoxication as a defense to negate a part of the offense that requires a defendant intentionally caused a result, Stein said. When troopers arrested Wallace, he had a breath-alcohol content of .209, over twice the legal limit of .08.
At earlier court hearings, Wallace's former lawyer, Andy Haas, had discussed a plea with Stein, she said. After Haas took a sabbatical early last summer, Wasilla lawyer Abigail Sheldon took over Wallace's case as a public defender. Stein said she had no discussions with Sheldon over a plea agreement until this week.
Sheldon did not return a faxed request for comment.
Investigators now believe Wallace thought he shot another man, known as "Turkey Joe," not Wilkinson, said Sgt. Dane Gilmore of the Alaska Bureau of Investigations in Soldotna. Gilmore said Wallace told troopers he had been drinking on Aug. 7 with Turkey Joe. Gilmore identified Turkey Joe as Robert Tech, also known as Joe Tech. Wallace and Tech met at the Alibi Bar on Pioneer Avenue, Gilmore said, and drank together at the bar and later away from the bar.
In 2004, Gilmore said he thought Wallace met Wilkinson at the Alibi. He said troopers now believe Wallace, who went by the nickname "Montana Mike," picked up Wilkinson while he was hitchhiking.
Dali Frazier, the owner of the Alibi, said Wallace and Tech did meet at the bar. Wallace took Tech out to the Homer Spit and after that picked up Wilkinson, she said.
Gilmore said Tech and Wilkinson looked similar.
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