ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — A lower court will reconsider the 135-year sentence given to a then-14-year-old girl four decades ago for her role in the shooting deaths of three people in Anchorage.
When Winona Fletcher was sentenced in 1986, she became the youngest female ever convicted of murder in Alaska, the Anchorage Daily News reported Thursday. The Alaska Court of Appeals sent the case back for reconsideration of the sentence because the judge did not consider her prospects for rehabilitation.
“I’m hopeful for Winona it’s going to mean that she gets an opportunity to be resentenced,” Whitney Glover, an attorney who has worked on Fletcher’s appeal, told the Anchorage newspaper.
Fletcher and her then-19-year-old boyfriend, Cordell Boyd, in 1985 killed 69-year-old Tom Faccio, his 70-year-old wife Ann Faccio and her 76-year-old sister, Emilia Elliott. The case drew heavy media attention.
Despite Fletcher’s age and lack of previous criminal history, a judge said she should be tried as an adult because she was an unlikely prospect for rehabilitation. She was sentenced after entering a no contest plea.
The couple’s daughters later started Victims for Justice. Attempts by The Associated Press to reach them Thursday were not immediately successful, and emails were sent to the organization and the Alaska Department of Law seeking comment.
The appeals court in its Friday ruling said a series of U.S. Supreme Court decisions in the last 18 years have reshaped the law when sentencing children for serious crimes, ultimately deciding “children are constitutionally different from adults for purposes of sentencing.”
Courts have found that juveniles are more reckless, impulsive and take more risks than adults and are unable to extricate themselves from crime-producing settings.
“The Alaska Constitution requires a sentencing court to consider a juvenile offender’s youth and its attendant characteristics before sentencing a juvenile tried as an adult to the functional equivalent of life without parole,” the Alaska appeals court opinion said. “We further conclude that, assuming this new constitutional rule is retroactive, the defendant in this case, Winona M. Fletcher, is entitled to a resentencing in which her youth and its attendant characteristics are properly considered.”
While acknowledging she committed “undeniably terrible crimes,” the court said the sentencing judge also didn’t consider her chaotic childhood, which included abuse and neglect that resulted in her becoming a sex worker at the age of 13.
At the time of the crimes, she was a runaway, a victim of child sex abuse and involved with an adult man who plied her with drugs beginning when she was 13, her attorney wrote in court filings.
The Alaska Superior Court will reconsider Fletcher’s sentence, taking her youth and vulnerability at the time of the crime into account and whether she had prospects for rehabilitation.
“So there’s an opportunity to ask the question — which is raised in the case — that is she ‘permanently incorrigible,’ which is basically something that couldn’t be determined at the age of 14,” Glover said.
The Alaska Department of Law is reviewing the ruling and “considering appropriate next steps,” department spokesperson Patty Sullivan said by email.
Fletcher, now 53, has given birth twice while in prison. Boyd also remains imprisoned in Alaska.
Fletcher’s case could also call into question the validity of other Alaska juveniles sentenced to life sentences. The decision notes only three other juveniles have received sentences of over 99 years but others have received lengthy sentences.