Jeremy Padgett has waited a long time for the day when his mother’s killer would at last answer for his crime.
Padgett’s mother — Sandra Perry, a 39-year-old single mom of three from Washington — was fatally shot by her boyfriend while they were vacationing in Yakutat nearly 20 years ago.
It was only on Friday that the man who killed her was sentenced for murder. Robert D. Kowalski received 50 years in prison with 10 years suspended during an day-long sentencing hearing in Juneau Superior Court before Judge Louis Menendez. That’s 40 years to serve.
Kowalski has always claimed the July 1996 shooting in Room 10 of the Glacier Bear Lodge in Yakutat was an accident. He claimed the same thing Friday when he spoke to Padgett, who appeared in court by phone, during allocution.
“I just want you to know that it was an accident and I did not do that on purpose,” Kowalski said. “I did not want to hurt your mother one way whatsoever. I’m very sorry.”
During Kowalski’s month-long trial in Juneau this spring, prosecutors said Kowalski intentionally shot Perry with a 12-gauge shotgun following an argument in their room. The two had been drinking and smoking marijuana, testimony showed. Prosecutors said Kowalski made up a story immediately after the shooting, claiming he picked up the gun because he thought he heard a bear outside, and that he tripped walking in the door, causing the gun to discharge and hit Perry in the face while she was reclining in bed.
The defense said the shooting was not intentional, and that the couple — whom witnesses described as love birds in what seemed as innocent as a high school romance — was not arguing at the time. The defense said there was never any doubt at the time that Kowalski did not shoot her intentionally, or else he would have been charged with a crime. Instead, Kowalski was cleared of any wrongdoing.
Kowalski, now 53, was only charged with first-and second-degree murder in connection to Perry’s death 12 years later because another one of his girlfriends died in a nearly identical fashion, causing the Yakutat case to be re-opened. Lorraine Kay Morin, 45, was fatally shot by Kowalski following an argument at their house in Flathead, County, Montana, near Kalispell, in March 2008. Kowalski was convicted of homicide via an Alford Plea for Morin’s death and he received 50 years with 10 years suspended.
The Juneau jury was able to learn about the Montana case at trial, despite the defense’s attempts to keep it out of evidence. The jury ended up acquitting Kowalski of first-degree murder, meaning they could not find that Kowalski intentionally shot Perry. But they did convict him on second-degree murder for causing Perry’s death under circumstances “manifesting an extreme indifference to the value of human life.”
Kowalski was facing a minimum of five years in prison for Perry’s death, and a maximum of 99 years.
On Friday, the prosecutor, Assistant Attorney General James Fayette of the state’s Office of Special Prosecutions and Appeals, requested 50 years, while the defense attorney, Assistant Public Defender Eric Hedland, requested 10 years, or some of the time to run concurrent with the Montana case.
The judge ruled that the two 40-year sentences must be served back-to-back, rather than at the same time as the defense requested. Fayette said in an interview after the hearing that he was grateful for that ruling because he didn’t want Kowalski to get a “two for one discount.”
Padgett, who was 16 when his mother died and is now 34 with a wife and kids of his own, said he wishes Kowalski no ill will or harm, although he said it’s shocking to think about “how many lives were hurt because of his carelessness.” He made one request.
“The only thing I want, and my mother wants, and I know Morin wants, and her family,” he said to the judge, “is that this man can’t get out and destroy another family, that he is put behind bars. That way, he can’t hurt another woman.”