Judge hands cabbie slasher 35 years in jail

Judge Weeks expresses his belief that St. Clair's intention was to kill

Posted: Sunday, January 23, 2005

Aaron St. Clair was sentenced Friday to serve 35 years in prison for stabbing cab driver Eric Drake a year ago.

St. Clair's wife, Violet, was sentenced to serve four years in prison by Juneau Superior Court Judge Larry Weeks.

Violet St. Clair called for a cab Jan. 7, 2004, knowing that Aaron St. Clair planned to display a knife and rob the driver, said her attorney, public advocate Steve Wells.

In the incident, Aaron St. Clair stabbed Drake 17 times, including wounds to his scalp, throat, stomach, legs and hands. Drake was robbed of $58.

Aaron St. Clair, 21, pleaded guilty to attempted first-degree murder.

"I do believe that Aaron St. Clair truly intended to kill Mr. Drake," Judge Weeks said at the hearing.

Aaron St. Clair, speaking in a subdued and halting voice, told Weeks he was "extremely sorry for what has happened."

Violet St. Clair, 19, in a clear voice but occasionally tearful, apologized to Drake "for the hideous crime that has happened, for my part in their situation."

But she said she had no ability to stop the crime or protect Drake or protect her husband.

"I thank the Lord for keeping (Drake) alive and that he's OK," Violet St. Clair said.

Prosecutor Doug Gardner said Drake was lucky to be alive.

Had the knife gon into Drake's throat a few millimeters farther, it might have proved fatal, testified Gregory Dostal, a physician who attended Drake at Bartlett Regional Hospital the night of Jan. 7, 2004.

Drake, 38, testified that the attack and its aftermath of physical rehabilitation and financial worries have changed the life of him and his family forever.

"I want everyone to know that Aaron intended to kill me. I could see it in his eyes. He was enjoying what he was doing," Drake told Weeks in court.

Drake said Aaron St. Clair, sitting behind him in the cab that night, grabbed him by the head.

"I seen the knife coming around," Drake said. "He cut my throat, stabbed me in the chest, in my gut. He left (the knife) in my gut and said, 'I'm going to kill you if you don't give me your money.'"

Drake said he kept his wallet under his legs for easy access, and tossed it to the side. Violet St. Clair had left the cab. But Aaron St. Clair continued to attack him, Drake said.

"He was going for my neck again and his hand was dropping down to pull my head once more," Drake said.

Drake said he bit Aaron St. Clair's finger and St. Clair stabbed him in the head.

"My dead grandpa came to me and said everything was going to be all right," Drake said, referring to a feeling that his deceased grandfather was communicating to him.

Drake said he grabbed the knife, figuring his hands could be repaired but his life couldn't be.

"I told him I had a family, to ease up," Drake said. "He eased up a little bit but he kept on doing what he was doing. My grandfather came to me again and he told me to play dead. 'You'll be OK if you play dead.' So I did, and that's when Aaron left me alone."

Drake asked Weeks to put Aaron St. Clair in prison for life. He said he was too angry to forgive Aaron St. Clair. But after the sentencing, Drake said it was a fair decision and it was time to move on.

Aaron St. Clair had not been convicted previously of a serious crime, said his attorney, public defender David Seid.

In this case, the state agreed to dismiss charges of first-degree assault, first-degree robbery and tampering with evidence. The state also agreed not to prosecute Aaron St. Clair in seven open cases in which Juneau police considered him a suspect.

But Weeks, in his sentencing, said he took into account Aaron St. Clair's role in another "brutal, life-threatening" robbery of a cab driver, a strong-arm robbery "with reprehensible aspects," and two sexual assaults.

Violet St. Clair pleaded guilty to first-degree conspiracy to commit robbery. Originally, she was charged with first-degree robbery and first-degree assault.

The St. Clairs have been in custody at Lemon Creek Correctional Center since their arrests on Feb. 4, 2004. Their 17-month-old son is being cared for by Aaron St. Clair's stepfather and mother, said the stepfather, Jim Jackson.

Weeks sentenced Aaron St. Clair to 50 years in prison but suspended 15 years. He also required 10 years of probation.

Weeks sentenced Violet St. Clair to eight years in prison but suspended four years. He required five years of probation.

The suspended portions of sentences can be imposed as jail time if the St. Clairs don't obey the conditions of probation once they're out of prison.

Both St. Clairs also are eligible to earn time off from their sentences, as much as one-third, for good behavior in prison.

Weeks also ordered the St. Clairs to pay $102,000 in restitution to cover Drake's medical bills, up to $2,000 to repair the interior of Drake's cab, and $1,500 each toward Drake's counseling costs.

Prosecutor Gardner asked Weeks to sentence Aaron St. Clair to 60 years in prison with 15 years suspended. He faced up to 99 years in prison.

Seid asked Weeks to give his client "10 years or so" of prison time. Seid said there was evidence that Aaron St. Clair did not intend to kill Drake.

Seid cited Violet St. Clair's and Aaron St. Clair's separate statements to authorities about what they intended, as well as grand jury testimony from a friend of Aaron St. Clair that St. Clair said it wasn't his plan to hurt Drake.

Aaron St. Clair told police the injuries to Drake happened when Drake fought back, Seid said.

Weeks, in sentencing Violet St. Clair, followed the terms of a plea agreement between the prosecutor and her.

Wells, Violet St. Clair's attorney, said she didn't want to have anything to do with the assault.

He said Violet St. Clair was the victim of sexual and physical abuse as a child, and didn't know how to say no to Aaron St. Clair.

• Eric Fry can be reached at eric.fry@juneauempire.com.

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