The Alaska Court of Appeals upheld the sentence Wednesday of Jimmy Eacker, convicted of manslaughter in a Seward cold case reopened due to DNA evidence.
In 1982, Toni Lister, a mother of four, was last seen leaving the Flamingo Bar in Seward with Eacker.
Eacker borrowed a truck from a friend the morning after he left the bar with Lister. When he returned three hours later, he had blood on his arms and face.
Lister’s body was found six weeks later in the woods near the Seward dump. Her pants had been removed, and she had been stabbed 26 times with a screwdriver- seven times in her head and 19 times in her torso, including five that penetrated her heart.
Lister’s murder was unsolved until 2006, when the Seward Police Department found evidence from the case and sent it to the State Crime Lab for testing. Those tests revealed that blood on Eacker’s pants matched Lister, and semen on Lister’s underwear matched Eacker.
The case drew Outside attention, appearing on a 2015 episode of the Investigation Discovery show Did He Do It?
Eacker was convicted of first-degree murder following a 2010 trial,but Eacker was granted a new trialbecause the State withheld DNA evidence indicating Lister had sex with another man near the time of her death.
In 2012, Superior Court Judge Anna Moran sentenced Eacker to 18 years in prison after Eacker reached a plea bargain with the State. Moran said during sentencing that Eacker’s treatment of Lister “border[ed] on torture.”
Eacker later appealed the sentence.
The manslaughter conviction was Eacker’s first felony offense. In 1982, there was no presumptive sentence for first-time felony offenders.
“At the time of Eacker’s offense, the presumptive term for a second felony offender convicted of manslaughter was 10 years’ imprisonment. This, then, was the ceiling on Eacker’s time to serve unless the sentencing court found substantial aggravating factors or extraordinary circumstances,” the Court of Appeals explained in Wednesday’s opinion.
Moran addressed those aggravating factors during sentencing.
Eacker had claimed he was too drunk and high on mushrooms to have consciously made a decision to kill Lister.
“Even if the defendant’s intent to [kill] was tempered by his intoxication, the above evidence was more than enough… to show [that] the defendant engaged in conduct manifesting extreme indifference to the value of human life, and [this conduct] constitutes murder in the second degree,” Moran concluded.
Eacker further argued that stabbing Lister 26 times did not constitute torture because she was unconscious.
“Because ‘torture’ connotes an intentional infliction of pain or other distress, it is true that the record in this case may not support a finding of torture,” the Court of Appeals acknowledged. “But the superior court was undoubtedly correct in singling out Eacker’s conduct as an example of inexplicable and seemingly senseless brutality. And as this Court stated in Hamilton v. State, ‘we have repeatedly upheld sentences in the upper end of the penalty range for defendants who committed gratuitous or otherwise inexplicable acts of extreme violence.'”
Complicating matters, Eacker was convicted in 1991 for attempted sexual abuse of two girls, ages 11 and 14.
Yet Eacker subsequently quit using drugs or alcohol, and following his 2007 arrest in the Lister case, counseled other inmates about substance abuse.
Eacker, who was 58 years old and in poor health when sentenced by Moran, appealed his sentence in part on his rehabilitation.
But Moran concluded, “The death of another by murderous means is not tolerated in our society, no matter how old or sick or… rehabilitated a person may have become [later].”
Based on the record, the Court of Appeals determined that Moran did not commit clear error in sentencing Eacker to more than ten years in prison.