Editor’s note: The following story contains a description of an alleged crime of a sexual nature. Readers are encouraged to use their own discretion when choosing to read this article.
A Juneau resident accused of sexually abusing of a minor pleaded guilty to a new, reduced charge, and entered into a plea deal that calls for an 8-year prison sentence with 6 years suspended.
Dressed in a business suit, Joshua David Burger, 37, a former Alaska Permanent Fund Corp. employee, appeared in Juneau Superior Court Thursday morning before Judge Philip Pallenberg.
Every seat in the courtroom was filled — with more people standing in the back — as about 35 to 40 supporters of the victim and her family attended the 8:30 a.m. hearing.
The crowd prompted two Juneau Police Department police officers that patrol the downtown area to stand guard in the courtroom, and the judge warned before proceedings began that if there were any outbursts — there were none — they would be taken into custody.
During the hearing, Burger agreed to plead guilty to first-degree indecent exposure, a class ‘C’ felony with a sexual offense designation that can carry a maximum penalty of 99 years in prison. First-degree indecent exposure has a presumptive sentencing range of two to 12 years in prison for a defendant, like Burger, who has no prior felonies.
Defense attorney Julie Willoughby told the judge that the plea agreement requires her client to serve 10 years on probation after his release from prison. Conditions of probation would be open to the court, she said.
Pallenberg asked Burger routine questions to ensure he was competent to enter a plea and found that it was entered freely, knowingly and voluntarily. The judge read the amended charge aloud to Burger which states that Burger knowingly exposed his genitals and masturbated in front of the victim in 2007, conduct which was alleged in earlier charging documents.
“To that charge, what plea do you enter?” Pallenberg asked.
“Guilty,” Burger said.
The judge explained to Burger that because the new charge was a designated sexual offense, he would be required to register with the sex offender registry for 15 years after he is discharged from probation and that he will be subject to periodic polygraph tests. Burger will also be assessed for sex offender treatment and will be required to comply with any recommendations.
Pallenberg further explained to Burger that he would not be deciding during this hearing whether he will accept the proposed plea deal or not. That decision will be made during a sentencing hearing, which was scheduled to take place Nov. 16.
Burger was ordered to report to Lemon Creek Correctional Center by 10:30 a.m. Thursday morning.
The change of plea hearing, which lasted 16 minutes, came nearly a year and a half after charges were initially filed against him. Burger was originally indicted by a Juneau grand jury last April on 100 counts of first-degree sexual abuse of a minor alleging sexual conduct over a four-year period, but that indictment was dismissed. He was later re-indicted on four felony counts — two counts of first-degree sexual abuse of a minor and two counts of second-degree sexual abuse of a minor — and was slated to stand trial on those charges this week, until the last-minute change of plea hearing was scheduled.
The victim watched the proceedings from the back of the courtroom, seated next to her mother and surrounded by friends and other family members. She and her mother could not be immediately reached for comment.
Outside the courtroom, friends of the victim’s family expressed disappointment with the proposed jail sentence.
“I think it’s a slap in the face,” Daniel E. Hines, 45, said. “I don’t think it’s enough.”
“For me, it’s not the jail time — it’s the charge,” said Kelly C. Parise, 41, who said her husband hired Burger to work at the Alaska Permanent Fund Corp. and was his boss for a number of years. “I mean, jail time would be awesome, you know? That would be great. But to me, it’s the charge. I think the victim needs to be validated.”
In a phone interview, District Attorney David Brower would not say why he chose to propose a plea deal in this case instead of taking it to trial.
“Well, I don’t really feel comfortable talking about that at this point,” Brower said. “I think it might become clear at sentencing.”
Attorneys on both sides usually speak at length about a case during sentencing hearing before a judge.
Brower did say he held a conversation with the victim’s family before offering the plea deal, but he would not comment on that conversation. When asked what made this a good plea deal, in his opinion, he said, “I don’t have any comment on that either.”
• Contact reporter Emily Russo Miller at 523-2263 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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