Justin Schneider is 34 years old, and previously was an Air Traffic Controller in Anchorage, Alaska. In August of 2017, Justin Schneider stopped at a gas station and offered a 24-year-old woman a ride. She had apparently been hitchhiking. The two set off in his vehicle. Instead of driving in the direction that she desired to go, he headed off in a different direction, saying that he needed to retrieve something from another vehicle. As television station KTLA put it…
Schneider then stopped the SUV on 36th east of Wisconsin Street, and asked the victim to get out while he loaded items into the vehicle. Once she approached the rear of the vehicle, Sarber wrote, Schneider “full on tackled” her, shoving her to the ground. He then began to strangle her with both hands around her throat, telling her that he was going to kill her.
“She said she could not fight him off, he was too heavy and had her down being choked to death,” Sarber wrote. “(The victim) said she lost consciousness, thinking she was going to die.”
When the victim woke up, she told police, Schneider was rising from her and zipping up his pants. He offered her a tissue, which police later recovered as evidence.
“The man told her that he wasn’t really going to kill her, that he needed her to believe she was going to die so that he could be sexually fulfilled,” Sarber wrote.
The victim said Schneider also let her retrieve her backpack and cellphone from the SUV’s front seat. Sarber said she used the phone to call police and report the vehicle’s license-plate number the moment Schneider drove out of sight.
The license-plate number matched Schneider’s vehicle. The victim’s physical description of her assailant matched Schneider’s appearance. Schneider was arrested and was charged with one count of felony kidnapping and three counts of assault, as well as one misdemeanor count of harassment involving “offensive contact with fluids.” He faced a jail sentence of between five and 99 years.
As the Washington Post reports, on Wednesday, Schneider copped a plea. He pleaded guilty to one count of felony assault and was sentenced to two years in prison, with one year suspended. He was given credit for a year that he has been under house arrest. He will be required to continue to wear an ankle bracelet and to participate in a treatment program. He was not classified as a sex offender.
In court, Schneider said:
I would just like to, um, emphasize how grateful I am for this process. It has given me a year to really work on myself and become a better person and a better husband and a better father. And I’m very eager to continue that journey.
Schneider did not express any regret or concern about how his actions may have affected his victim. The victim, a Native American woman, was not at the hearing. According to the police, she had been traumatized “to the point where she couldn’t [sic] hardly speak” after the assault.
The presiding judge replied:
All right. Thank you, sir, I appreciate those comments.
The judge accepted the plea arrangement based on the prospect of rehabilitation, and said that one could describe the outcome as breathtaking.
Mr. Schneider is going to be a member of our community, and he would not be in jail for the rest of his life even if he had been convicted on all of the counts for which he was charged.
The prosecutor said that he accepted the plea deal because Schneider had no prior criminal record and seemed interested in rehabilitation.
That’s the reason why I made the deal that I made, because I have reasonable expectations that it will not [recur]. But I would like the gentleman to be on notice that that is his one pass. It’s not really a pass, but given the conduct, one might consider that it is.
The outcome stirred considerable outrage. In response, the Criminal Division of the Alaska State government issued the following statement:
Justin Schneider Sentenced in Accordance with Current Law
September 21, 2018
(Anchorage, AK) – On Wednesday, September 19, 2019, Superior Court Judge Michael Corey sentenced Justin Schneider (3AN-17-06258 CR) to a term of imprisonment of two years with one year suspended and one year of jail time following his guilty plea to second-degree assault. Although Mr. Schneider received one year of jail time, Alaska law allows an offender to receive credit for any time spent on an ankle monitor or under house arrest against any jail sentence imposed.
The Department of Law heard from a number of concerned citizens that the sentence imposed was too lenient. Criminal Division Director John Skidmore independently reviewed the case and concluded the sentence was consistent with, and reasonable, under current sentencing laws in Alaska.
Mr. Schneider plead guilty to one count of assault in the second degree, a class B felony in Alaska, in exchange for the State’s dismissal of the remaining charges – notably, first-degree kidnapping and first-degree harassment. The State dismissed the most serious charge based on the conclusion that the State would be unable to prove the kidnapping at trial. Kidnapping requires that the victim be “restrained” or moved against his or her will. Additional investigation determined that the victim willingly got into Mr. Schneider’s vehicle and willingly drove with him to the location of the assault. Under these circumstances, the criminal charge of kidnapping (as defined under Alaska law) could not be proven beyond a reasonable doubt.
Mr. Schneider was convicted of the remaining most serious crime: second-degree assault. Based on Mr. Schneider’s lack of criminal history, the sentencing range for the offense was zero to two years in jail.
“Though it is understandable that some feel his sentence was not sufficiently harsh,” Director Skidmore explained, “All prosecutors are ethically required to follow the law, no matter how disturbing the facts may be.”
While the facts of this case were particularly disturbing, Mr. Schneider’s offensive physical contact with bodily fluid such as semen is not categorized as a sex crime under Alaska law. Despite this limitation, the prosecutor felt Mr. Schneider needed sex offender treatment. The only way to achieve that result was to have Mr. Schneider agree to the probation conditions. Thus, the prosecutor required Mr. Schneider to undergo sex offender treatment and comply with other monitoring conditions as a condition of the plea agreement.
During sentencing, the prosecutor explained why the Anchorage District Attorney’s Office supported the resolution. The word choice used – that is, that some would view the sentence as a “pass” – was unfortunate and misunderstood. The prosecutor was attempting to explain that while the agreed upon sentence seemed lenient, it was consistent with current Alaska law and based on a thorough review of the facts of case.
“The aggressive prosecution of violent crime – especially violence against women – has always been, and remains, a priority for us,” said Director Skidmore. “In this case, attending sex offender treatment is important. His actions may have not technically qualified as a sex offense, but it is clearly appropriate under the circumstances and will hopefully help prevent him from doing more harm in the future.”
As a result of his arrest and the resulting criminal case, Justin Schneider is no longer an Air Traffic Controller at Ted Stevens International Airport. The prosecutor described Schneider’s loss of his government job as a “life sentence.”
This is a Creative Commons article. The original version of this article appeared here.