PALMER, Alaska (KTUU) - A young Mat-Su Valley man pleaded guilty to manslaughter in a case that took months to get to prosecution.
Damien Peterson was one of three teens in a room on June 27, 2016, when a witness alleged he shot 16-year-old Frank Woodford. Thursday morning, he pleaded guilty to manslaughter, and he could face up to 20 years in jail for the shooting.
When Troopers and medical responders arrived to the home where Woodford was shot, the victim told them, "I didn’t shoot myself," according to the criminal complaint. Woodford then told the Trooper he didn’t know who had shot him. He later died from the single gunshot wound.
The third young man in the room that day was Austin Barrett, who is charged with murder and kidnapping in the 2016 homicide case of 16-year-old David Grunwald. His eyewitness account of Woodford's death came to light during the Grunwald investigation.
Prosecutor Roman Kalytiak says Barrett’s prosecution for that case would have complicated taking Peterson’s case to trial, which is why it was pleaded to the lesser offense. Barrett told Troopers what happened after being "offered consideration in an open criminal case he is facing," according to the criminal complaint against Peterson.
According to the criminal complaint, in January 2017, Barrett told investigators that he and Peterson had been smoking marijuana that day – as they did every day; additionally, he alleged that Peterson had been loading and unloading a handgun, racking the slide back and forth, ejecting live rounds, and picking them up and re-loading the magazine. At least once, Peterson pointed the gun at Barrett with his finger on the trigger. Barrett claimed that Woodford came into the room and laid on the same bed, when Peterson pointed the gun at Woodford in the same manner, and then fired it.
Barrett then told investigators that Peterson pointed the gun at him again, and said, "[He] shot himself." Barrett also told investigators that Peterson threatened to have him killed if he told anyone what happened.
According to Kalytiak, the maximum sentence for manslaughter is 20 years. But because Peterson had not been convicted of a felony at the time of the crime, he’s likely facing a range from five to nine years. Peterson will go before a judge on May 9, 2018 to find out his fate. Kalytiak added that the plea bargain is open on sentencing, so the prosecution and defense will likely argue aggravating and mitigating factors.
Peterson did plead guilty in September to a felony assault charge that stemmed from a kidnapping and robbery investigation. But since that crime occured after Woodford’s death, the felony won’t count against his sentencing, Kalytiak said.