A Haines man said in Juneau Superior Court today that he was responsible for delivering a beating that unintentionally killed his uncle last September.
Robert Skulka, 36, of Haines, originally was charged with second-degree murder stemming from the incident on Sept. 17, when he was accused of kicking his uncle to death. He pleaded guilty today to a lesser charge of criminally negligent homicide as part of a plea agreement with the state.
Second-degree murder is punishable by up to life in prison, while negligent homicide carries a maximum of 10 years in prison. The plea agreement did not include a recommended sentence.
Former Assistant District Attorney Dave Brower said in court today that William Jackson's official cause of death was a separation of the portal vein from the liver, causing Jackson to bleed to death internally.
Brower, who now is an assistant attorney general, said he offered the plea bargain because it would be difficult to prove that Skulka delivered the fatal blow to Jackson. Brower said one witness, who said he saw Skulka kick Jackson, had been drinking and Skulka didn't remember kicking his uncle. The prosecutor also said it would be difficult to prove that Skulka intended to kill Jackson.
Defense Attorney David Seid said at the hearing today that he believed a factual basis existed to charge Skulka with negligent homicide, but he disagreed with some of the specifics of the case.
"The cause of death was from a trauma, but no one could say specifically whether that trauma was caused from a kick or from him falling on something," Seid said.
Brower testified in court today to the facts of the case to support the charges:
Skulka, Jackson and other people were drinking in Jackson's trailer the night of the incident. As the night wore on, Jackson and Skulka began arguing over ownership of the trailer. The argument escalated. Jackson stood up from the couch, but Skulka pushed him back down. He got up again. Again Skulka pushed him, and Jackson fell to the floor, striking his head on the coffee table. Skulka began kicking Jackson in the mid-section as his uncle lay on the floor bleeding from his head injury, according to testimony from a witness, Brower said.
Brower said in court today that when paramedics and police arrived a short time later they were concerned with Jackson's head injury and did not realize he was bleeding internally. He was awake, alert and speaking, according to court records. Police arrested Skulka on a misdemeanor assault charge thinking it was a simple domestic fight, Brower said in court.
Later that night Jackson died, and Skulka was charged with murder, court records show.
Brower said the autopsy report showed that Jackson already had extensive liver damage before the fight. He said it is possible, based on the autopsy findings, that a kick to the mid-section could cause Jackson's liver to move and separate from the portal vein, causing the internal bleeding that killed him.
Skulka is scheduled to be sentenced on June 19.