A 50-year-old Skagway man was sentenced Tuesday to serve seven years in prison for accidentally shooting his girlfriend during a suicide attempt last year.
Juneau Superior Court Judge Philip Pallenberg also ordered Carl Timothy Forester’s firearms be forfeited to the state for destruction since the case was about “six inches away” from being a homicide, he said.
“I have no doubt that if that shotgun had been aimed about six inches to the right and up, that — not to be crass — but it would have blown her face off,” Pallenberg said during the sentencing hearing.
The gunshot victim, Elizabeth C. Rankin, doesn’t see it that way. At odds with the prosecutor who requested the seven year sentence, Rankin said she left the Dimond Courthouse feeling “perplexed, flummoxed and gobsmacked” over what she perceives to be an excessive sentence.
“I do not believe that there was intent to harm me,” the 43-year-old said after the hearing, as she gathered her things from the public seating. “The intent was to harm himself, not me.”
During the hearing, Rankin begged the judge — in what turned out to be an emotional, uninterrupted 40-minute long monologue — to allow Forester, her then boyfriend, to come home. Breaking down in tears at times and raising her voice at others, Rankin aired grievances about various aspects of the case, including her belief that the district attorney was “railroading” Forester.
“I just want him home,” she implored Pallenberg. “He did not do this on purpose. I tried to get him help and no one helped me, and this is what happened. He didn’t do this to me. The system did it to me.”
Rankin added that she doesn’t think Forester should have walked away “scot-free.”
“I’m not saying that,” she said. “But I just want him home. My mom wants him home. His mom wants him home. I just want him home.”
Forester was depressed at the prospect of losing his home and was drinking one afternoon in November when he put the barrel of a gun in his mouth. Rankin, who was at their home at the time, desperately tried to thwart the attempt and “conked” him in the head with the butt of another rifle. That action, however, caused Forester to involuntarily pull the trigger, and the bullet struck Rankin in the upper chest and arm. It took off a chunk of her shoulder and obliterated her collarbone. She is permanently disfigured and underwent months of rehabilitation and physical therapy.
Forester was charged with first-, second- and third-degree assault and was convicted of all three felonies during a weeklong trial in Juneau earlier this year. The three convictions were merged for sentencing purposes, and Forester was presumptive to serve seven to 11 years in prison.
On Tuesday, Juneau District Attorney James Scott told the judge he knows the gunshot victim is displeased with the state’s perceived “harsh” handling of the case, which he said is unfortunate because he strives to meet the expectations of victims. But Forester displayed such a “shocking amount” of reckless behavior by mixing alcohol and firearms while emotionally distraught, and Scott said he had no choice but to ensure this couldn’t happen again. The case was almost fatal, he emphasized.
“This was inches away from the victim’s head,” Scott said. “It’s as close to a homicide as you can get without someone leaving in a body bag.”
Scott said Forester has engaged in this type of activity in the past and speculated that Forester may use the threat of suicide as a means to control and manipulate domestic partners.
The DA initially asked the judge to impose nine years in prison with four years suspended (five years to serve) under the mistaken impression that Forester was presumptive to serve five years. When the judge pointed out that the use of a firearm in the crime bumped up the presumptive range to seven to 11 years, Scott amended his request to 10 years with three years suspended, which is what the judge ultimately imposed.
Defense attorney Mark Osterman unsuccessfully argued for a mitigator that would have allowed his client to serve five years, saying it was the least serious offense for a class ‘A’ felony because Forester did not intend to harm Rankin.
When given a chance to speak, Forester said he didn’t want Rankin in the room on the day of his attempted suicide. He told her to leave, but she put herself in harm’s way.
“Why?” he asked aloud. Forester then answered his own question.
“To save my life. And for that, I’m forever in her debt,” he said. “But in saving my life, she was gravely injured. For that, I have no words that I can express to say how sorry I am. But I will find a way. You call her the victim. I call her the hero.”
He thanked Rankin personally, then apologized to everyone the incident has affected and took responsibility.
“Sorry to everybody,” he said. “I lost faith. This is my fault.”
Although Forester and Rankin are no longer dating, Rankin said she still loves him and that he is family to her.
The DA said the love story is touching, but the criminal justice system does not have a mechanism in place to forgive Forester as Rankin has done.
“He’s square with the victim, but he owes the state seven years,” Scott said.