PALMER — Superior court Judge Vanessa White sentenced Clayton Allison to 30 years behind bars Wednesday afternoon in a courtroom crowded with relatives and supporters.
Barring the outcome of an appeal — which defense attorneys and family members said was certain — Alaska parole guidelines ensure Allison will remain in prison for at least 13 years, 4 months, and about 24 days before he becomes eligible for a discretionary parole hearing. Allison also faces 15 years probation following any potential release, during which he could be subjected to warrantless searches, though only for evidence of firearms.
In all, Allison received a 40-year sentence, with 10 years suspended, meaning he could still be forced to serve them in the event of a probation or parole violation.
“We love you Clayton!” several people in the gallery called out, as bailiffs escorted Allison out of the courtroom. When Allison appeared in an orange jumpsuit and handcuffs, several members of the audience also rose to their feet in support.
White’s remarks zeroed in on the contents of the confidential pre-sentencing report, a document defense attorneys said would follow Allison as he begins long-term residency with the Alaska Department of Corrections. Numerous objections raised by defense attorneys would not alter the report, White said.
“The defendant has made a number of objections to the factual assertions in the pre-sentence report,” she said. “Most of those factual assertions are not material to the court’s sentencing decision and will not be relevant to the parole board.”
For example, at one point the report refers to the Allisons’ home as “cluttered,” which White said would likely not be material to either the sentence or the parole board. A reference to a healed leg fracture being “discovered” on the body of Jocelynn Allison following her death on Sept. 24, 2008, was also immaterial, the judge said.
Nor did the word “discovered” suggest “this is evidence of a hidden, untreated, or undisclosed injury to the child,” White said.
White also said any evidence of the injuries coming about as a result of repeated child abuse was unfounded, adding that the court did not agree with one possible implication in the report.
White said the parole officer’s interpretation of events “is not sufficiently supported by the evidence for the court to agree with that inference,” White said. “The court shall not strike what is an accurate factual summary, but declines to adopt the inference just mentioned.”
White also agreed with a psychological evaluation labeling Allison “passive,” as compared to his wife, CJ Allison.
“The court is of a similar opinion to Dr. Turner,” White said. “Something happened to cause this otherwise passive and patient man to kill his daughter. Dr. Turner has no idea what occurred, and neither does the court.”
White said she focused on community condemnation as the central sentencing criterion in fashioning her sentence.
Defense attorneys, some of whom said they had been litigating Jocelynn Allison’s death for almost half a decade, said they had not expected a sentence as steep as the one imposed Wednesday.
“We’ve been living and breathing this case, it seems like, forever,” said Hannah Thorssin-Bahri who began representing the family in 2009. Defense attorney Ariel Toft has been working the case for almost two years. Unlike numerous other criminal defense cases, the attorneys have developed a personal relationship with the family and friends of the accused, Thorssin-Bahri said.
The attorneys say they believe absolutely in Allison’s innocence.
“Sending an innocent man to jail for 30 years is hard to take,” Thorssin-Bahri said.
Family members said what they believed happened was not a murder, but a miscarriage of justice.
Clayton Allison’s brother-in-law Steven Vaughn compared the experience of some family members, repeatedly submitted to autopsy photos of a 15-month-old girl, to torture.
“We don’t torture terrorists, but we force a mother to look at pictures of her chopped up kid,” he said. “It makes me nauseous.”
Prosecutor Mike Perry said the photos in question were clearly announced beforehand, and that they were not used as part of a calculated strategy to manipulate the jury.
“To argue that the jury should not see the evidence because it is hard to look at is to argue against our system of justice and ask jurors to convict on hearsay and opinion only, and is less likely to lead to a correct outcome,” he wrote.
Perry said the sentence was reasonable.
“The sentencing range was 20-99, so a sentence of 30 years for murder is not at all on the harsh side and takes into account the factors that the family wanted considered,” he wrote in an email.
The state had also funded the defense of Clayton Allison at roughly four times the budget afforded the prosecution, Perry said. Despite the family’s objections, justice had been done, Perry said.
“I understand that the family is frustrated and blames the prosecution and the court, just as they also blamed the medical personnel and the troopers who investigated the case,” he wrote. “All parties have tried to perform their jobs and the process is still ongoing.”
Supporters filled the rows of courtroom seats, sporting green T-shirts with the slogan “Show your stripes for Clayton,” and green-and-black zebra-pattern stripes and hearts. The stripes were a reference to a genetic disorder known as Ehlers-Danlos syndrome which effects as many as 1 in 10,000 people, according to the National Institutes of Health.
Family members say CJ was diagnosed with the disorder by doctors at the Mayo Clinic, and the uncommon diagnosis contributed to what they are certain is Jocelynn’s accidental death. White barred testimony on the syndrome from the courtroom.
The shirts’ designer, Liz Shine, said she was left speechless by the sentence.
“The judge did what she had to do,” she said. “I don’t know if I even had words to describe how I feel.
“I truly believe — knowing Clayton, knowing everything that I know about the case, knowing Jocelynn, and her being like family to me, and seeing him with her (Jocelynn) and seeing the actual big picture and everything the jury didn’t get to see — that he is innocent.”
Colleen Bailey, another friend, agreed.
“Tiny baby bunnies are more violent than Clayton is,” she said.
CJ, a courtroom pillar since the early days of her husband’s prosecution, said the verdict angered her.
“I’m livid, absolutely livid,” she said. “I think the judge showed her bias today.”
CJ also focused her disagreement through the lens of the pre-sentencing report, and pledged to bring the facts of the case to the public through the website she created and maintains: claytonallison.com.
“That pre-sentence report had an error on every page, from page 2 to page 15,” she said. “Or an accusation that was unfounded, and she’s going to let the majority of those ride. That pre-sentence report is going to follow Clayton from this point out.”
“We have actual evidence, we have actual information, we have everything that show’s Clayton’s innocence,” she said outside the courtroom, following sentencing.
Asked if she was concerned whether the sea of green in the courtroom could unintentionally provoke a sterner reaction from White, CJ said no.
“Any judge that makes that kind of determination is unprofessional, in my opinion, like this one is unprofessional,” she said. “I think that it’s important that the general public be allowed a voice. Freedom of speech is incredibly important. It’s important that the community be able to communicate what the realities of the case are.”
She said the T-shirts and ribbons are an avenue to tell their side of the story, CJ said.
“Something very precious to them has been stolen ... and this is the way they can make it right,” she said. “This is the way they can show the truth and show the reality.”
Contact Brian O’Connor at 352-2269, firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @reporterbriano.