A Juneau Superior Court judge Monday tacked two years back onto the sentence of a man convicted of violent sexual assault and battery against his wife seven years ago after he refused to participate in a treatment program at Lemon Creek Correctional Center.
Judge Patricia Collins, who sentenced John Tanner, now 52, in the original assault on his wife Katherine said she could barely review the records from the original case, saying “this is and was one of the most serious sexual assault cases that has come before me.”
As a matter of policy, the Empire does not print the names of sexual-assault victims. Katherine Tanner has consented to the use of her name.
“I got tired of being referred to as the victim because I had done nothing wrong,” Katherine said. “I had a name. It was part of the healing process for me to state my name.”
John Tanner was sentenced in 2003 to 20 years, five suspended, 15 to serve and 10 years probation for one count of first-degree sexual assault, a plea deal he accepted after being charged with five counts of first-degree sexual assault against his wife. The State had considered at the time of pursuing attempted murder charges.
The attack was so horrific, Katherine stated, she kept her eyes open because she feared if she closed them she would be dead. She reiterated that via a letter in court and added, “I couldn’t feel it, it was like I was watching a movie, watching it happen to someone else, like I had left my body and I was going to die.”
Doug Gardner, acting as a special assistant to the District Attorney’s office, said he was there to fulfill his promise to Katherine made more than six years ago when she asked, “Please give me enough time to raise a boy to know that it is not right to hit a woman.”
Gardner said to Collins, “I don’t recall coming before you on a case and asking for all the suspended time to be implemented before.”
Gardner said this was a serious sexual assault, and sex offender treatment clearly is one of the key factors in Mr. Tanner’s ability to go back into society and be a productive member.
According to Gardner and a Lemon Creek Correctional Center case worker, Tanner refused to participate in Sex Offender treatment programs while incarcerated. With a scheduled release date set for 2013, it would be hard for that treatment to now be provided due to the offender waiting list. Tanner had two years and seven months remaining in his sentence.
According to Gardner, Tanner has been attempting to find out things about his wife, “Attempting to shadow her from jail.”
Tanner had also made statements to a prison treatment worker, “I don’t need sex offender treatment, I don’t have that problem, it is all my wife’s fault, and I haven’t had this problem until I met her.”
Said Gardner, “If isolation was important then, isn’t it more important now?”
Defense attorney David Seid said there was no good cause to revoke probation and there is significant time remaining for treatment before the original sentence was finished.
When asked by Judge Collins if he had anything to say, Tanner read a long, convoluted letter that mentioned his belief of being pardoned by then Gov. Frank Murkowski and by the State, that he has been harassed by staff at LCCC and his parents said he was to be released. Tanner also said the attack was over in an instant.
“Believe me no one is sorrier than I am,” Tanner said. “I never blamed my wife. As far as being angry and hostile, I am after five years of being harassed by staff and inmates, doing everything to make trouble for me with cameras and listening devices.
I just want to get this over with. I just want the truth. It was not something I planned; I am not a bad person. I didn’t torture her for hours.”
Collins responded by saying there had never been an action by the governor or the court to reduce his sentence and that his delusional statements were either a product of his parents or his fertile imagination.
Collins stated that “this was torture plain and simple and it went on for hours” and also mentioned that in Tanner’s own statements to police his wife was bleeding for hours. An attending physician had stated it was a “cruel and prolonged torture.”
“The atrocities from reading that assault in ‘03 are still with me,” Collins said. “And I don’t need to go over it again.”
Collins had originally ordered Tanner to enroll in and complete sex offender treatment while incarcerated and now told him, “You didn’t do any homework, didn’t participate in any groups, quit the program and said it was your wife’s fault.”
Collins said in that original sentence that isolation and protection of the public, including what was then a young son, was the utmost importance.
Collins reiterated that sentiment and read from a letter written by Tanner’s wife, who describes someone that when he first went to jail she hoped he could have a relationship with his son, and said his son loved him,. But in 2006 she had to cut off all contact because he still blamed her, the guards and other inmates.
“When I met mister Gardner,” Collins read from the wife’s letter, “I begged him to please give me enough time to raise a boy to know that it is not right to hit a woman.”
Collins read a prison therapists account that Tanner took no responsibility for the heinous rape, which makes rehabilitation and early release difficult, that Tanner thought it was his right to do what he did and had made up stories about her sexual activity.
“You are not sorry about not getting treatment,” Collins said. “You have to do it. I order it.”
Collins ordered a complete mental health assessment for Tanner while incarcerated and another upon his eventual release.
Two of the five suspended years were imposed to Tanner’s sentence to ensure a follow through with a sex offender program and, if good behavior results, release can be obtained in late 2014 or early 2015.
The 10 year probation conditions remain when released from jail, including no direct or indirect contact with Katherine Tanner, now 51.
“I will be okay,” Katherine Tanner said by phone after the sentencing. “Everything heals. I wasn’t okay overnight though. I was as sick as he was then; the abnormal was normal then. I wouldn’t take it now. I am in a good spot now but it didn’t happen overnight.’
“It has gone by really fast and the closer we got to his release date the more nervous I got,” she said.
Katherine Tanner said she has received letters from her ex-husband’s prior girlfriends, confiding in her their abuse and thanking her for standing up for them now.
“It scares me that some day he might be out,” Katherine said. “There have been other relationships before me that were abusive and he will enter into another relationship… I am afraid that he has sat in there and been mad at everyone for years so the next relationship is going to be the same.”
Her son, now a teen, has struggled to understand it all.
“When he was missing his dad I could only tell him “you’re missing the father figure he could have been, not the man who he is,” Katherine said. “One day he was there and one day he was gone. My son has had to deal with the fact that the two people he really loved the most, that one could to that to another. His dad just disappeared and he worries that I might. He feels shame sometimes but he had done nothing wrong.”
Katherine Tanner had a protective order against John prior to the assault. There were also domestic violence charges from 1997, 1998, and 2001.
In the 2001 case, Judge Peter B. Froehlich fined John Tanner $1,000 with $1,000 suspended, 30 days with 20 suspended, and ordered the completion of Juneau Alcohol Safety Activity Program (JASAP) and completion of an anger management course with the Tongass Counseling Center (TCCC).
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