Man gets 15 years in prison for attack

Woman says people in abusive relationships should seek help

Posted: Thursday, January 29, 2004

Katherine Tanner told a judge Wednesday that she kept her eyes open during a near-fatal attack by her husband because she was afraid she might never open them again.

Tanner, 44, had defended her husband years earlier in court. On Wednesday, she didn't offer any reasons for leniency in his sentencing for first-degree sexual assault.

Juneau Superior Court Judge Patricia Collins sentenced John Tanner, 45, to 15 years in prison for the August 2003 attack. He received the maximum sentence - 20 years with five suspended - for his plea of guilty.

"I have absolutely no hesitation in accepting the agreement," Collins said Wednesday, after hearing testimony from two police officers and an emergency room physician, as well as listening to Katherine Tanner's statement.

Collins and Assistant District Attorney Doug Gardner used the word "torture" in describing the prolonged attack. Gardner said the victim reported it lasted two hours. The defendant said it lasted six or seven hours.

As a matter of policy, the Empire does not print the names of sexual-assault victims. Katherine Tanner said after Wednesday's sentencing that she had no objection to being identified and hoped her story could help victims of domestic violence find their way out of abuse before it is too late.

"A lot of women are in the same situation I was in," she said after the hearing, adding that there are places they can go for help.

Police determined that after John had beaten his wife, he dragged her by her hair into their bedroom and continued the assault. He inflicted the most damage when he reached inside of her, tearing muscle and tissue that had to be surgically repaired, said Dr. Ken Brown, working in the Bartlett Regional Hospital emergency room in the early hours of Aug. 16.

Katherine lost about a liter of blood before she was brought in, he said. "If you lose 112, 2 liters, you could potentially die from that."

John was convicted of domestic violence crimes on three previous occasions during their relationship, Katherine said. The Tanners married in December 1996. John's first arrest for domestic-violence assault came in January 1997, while she was pregnant with their son.

"I couldn't believe it was happening to us," she said. "After all, he loved me."

Katherine continued, addressing her statement directly to the defendant.

"In court I told everyone what a nice guy you were," she said.

She said she believed that all he had to do was lay off the alcohol. He had been through counseling for alcohol abuse and anger management.

In 1998, it happened again, she said. And in 2001, it happened again.

"He said he was sorry," she said. "Then there were all the other times in between that the police weren't involved."

Katherine said she separated from her husband in July. When they went out for what proved to be their last night together in August, "I thought things were going to be different," she said. "That night we were having fun."

She said they were laughing and dancing before he pushed her and called her names, questioning the way she acted with other men.

When he was professing his love for her, he said he would take a bullet for her, Katherine said. "He didn't mention he was the biggest threat to my life I had."

She said he threw away his family and noted that his son still loves him.

"Our son will grow up without a father because of the choices you made," she said. "I know alcoholics who don't beat their wives."

Collins gave the defendant a chance to speak before sentencing, but he said there really was nothing he would say.

"I could say I'm sorry a thousand, a billion times, and that wouldn't solve anything," John said. "I guess I'm ready to go on with the rest of my life."

Collins placed John Tanner on 10 years probation, the maximum under Alaska law, dating from his release from custody. She said he would be required to register as a sex offender for the rest of his life.

"This conduct is condemned by the community," Collins said. She asked John Tanner to look at the sentence not as a reason to be angry, but as a reason to change.

• Tony Carroll can be reached at

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