Longtime state prosecutor Patrick J. Gullufsen is suspended from practicing law after he withheld DNA evidence in a murder trial, according to documents acquired by KTUU.
A July memorandum from the Alaska Bar Association says that Gullufsen is not allowed to practice law until January 2015.
The Bar Association's Board of Governors recommended Gullufsen be disciplined after Superior Court Judge Anna Moran described the prosecutor as conducting himself with "flagrant, reckless or negligent disregard of the State's obligation under the Alaska Constitution."
Where controversy lies is Gullufsen's prosecution of Jimmy Eacker for the death of Toni Lister, who was found dead in a Seward dump in 1982.
Lister's death remained unsolved until 2006, when it was the only unsolved homicide in the coastal community 100-something miles south of Anchorage.
Then-discovered DNA evidence broke the case open and appeared to prove an undeniable link between Eacker and Lister. Given how long the case was cold, that evidence was paramount.
At trial, witnesses recalled a questionable series of steps taken by Eacker around the time of Lister's death, including an allegiation that he was the last to see her alive. But those memories were a few decades old and vulnerable to cross-examination by defense lawyers, so Gullufsen made the crux of his case clear from day one of the trial, according to the Peninsula Clarion.
"We have Mr. Eacker ending up saying I lied to you about everything that happened between the time I left (a bar) with Toni Lister and the time I woke up in (a) truck out at the dump several hours later," he said. "But we have Toni Lister's panties to tell us that there was a sexual encounter between Mr. Eacker and Ms. Lister and we have his pants to tell us that the encounter they had led to her blood getting on his pants. We can fill in the evening and the morning hours for him."
The evidence seemed solid, but there was a problem.
Analysis by a forensic science laboratory had brought the DNA evidence into question, and Moran said in a court document that Gullufsen blatantly lied about that to the court and to Eacker's defense lawyers; he knew the evidence was there, but failed to share it.
According to that document, Gullufsen said the laboratory that produced contradictory evidence "had not finished its testing, that it was an ongoing project and it was doubtful the State was going to have anything 'by the end of today, end of tomorrow, end of this week, whenever.'"
Gullufsen claims in hindsight, according to Moran's statement, that he should have provided the evidence to the defense and only failed to do so out of confusion.
Not good enough, said Moran. Speaking for the court, she ordered a new trial for Eacker in February 2011. Moran apologized to Eacker, Lister's family and to jurors who were pulled away from their usual lives for a month.
"If we are to have any confidence in our system of justice, then the court, as guardian of that system, must make sure rules and procedures (designed) to promote justice are followed," Moran said. "The primary purpose of Criminal Rule 16 is to provide meaningful and adequate information to the defendant and meet the requirements of due process in order to secure a fair and just trial on the merits.
"That was not done in this case."
Lister was survived by a husband and four children, and the Peninsula Clarion reported the family had taken solace in the original conviction. That 99-year sentence was tossed out.
Eacker later pleaded guilty to the lesser crime of manslaughter, dropping his sentence to 20 years, the Clarion reported.
Gullufsen retired in July 2010, according to The Juneau Empire.
Over the years, the Empire reports, he prosecuted an array of high-profile and unsolved cases, including the trial of Mechele Linehan, who was found guilty of murdering her fiance Kent Leppink.
Linehan went free after a Court of Appeals ruling that improper evidence was presented to the jury during trial.
Eacker's defense lawyer, Tracey Wollenberg, deputy public defender, said the suspension of Gullufsen may point to a larger issue.
"If something like this could be withheld in a case of this magnitude, it suggests that it can and perhaps is happening in other cases," Wollenberg said.
Cori Mills, a spokeswoman for the Alaska Department of Law, said it is rare for a prosecutor to be suspended for withholding evidence, but she said the department is reviewing its practices in light of the news.
Just after his retirement, Gullufsen told the Empire he was looking forward to getting out on his boat and enjoying retirement around Juneau -- and looking back on the principle that underpinned his philosophy as a prosecutor.
"The biggest thing I learned was if you are going to present a good case to the jury, forget the [B.S.], get down to the facts of the case, and present those facts in a credible way to them," he said. "People have a lot of common sense; juries do a great job, you just have to present them the facts."
Editor's Note: Gullufsen could not be reached for comment.