Palin OKs maximum sentence for cops who kill

Law mandates 99-year prison term for police convicted of murder

Posted: Sunday, April 29, 2007

Gov. Sarah Palin signed into law Friday a mandated sentence for peace officers convicted of first-degree murder.

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A high-profile case featuring a Nome police officer convicted of killing a 19-year-old woman drove the measure, said Sen. Donny Olson, D-Nome, who drafted the legislation.

Last year, former Nome officer Matthew Owens received a 101-year sentence for the murder of Sonya Ivanoff and for tampering with evidence in 2003. The new law is called the Sonya Ivanoff Act.

It states that any peace officer, firefighter or correctional employee convicted of first-degree murder shall receive a mandatory sentence of 99 years in prison.

It specifies that a jury must find by "clear and convincing evidence" that people convicted under the law used their authority as a peace officer to commit the crime.

"We must work in a trusting partnership to make sure that no citizen feels unsafe, or disrespected or will be treated unfairly by our peace officers," Palin said.

"This legislation will send a message that we will hold our peace officers to that standard Alaskans deserve and respect," she said.

Ivanoff moved from Unalakleet to Nome in 2002. She disappeared Aug. 11, 2003.

Witnesses said they saw her getting into a police car in the early morning hours of that day. Owens was one of two officers on duty.

Her body was found at the end of an access road near gold dredges about three miles from downtown Nome. She had been shot once.

Alaska State Troopers eventually took over the investigation and Owens was arrested in October 2003. It was the troopers investigation that former prosecutor Richard Svobodny said should help restore any lost faith in law enforcement

"There was a huge amount of work put in by the Alaska State Troopers," said Svobodny, now a deputy attorney general. "Once they thought there was a police officer involved, they were tenacious."

It still took two trials to get a conviction. During the first trial, a Nome jury could not reach a verdict. A second trial in Kotzebue produced a guilty verdict after three days of deliberation.

Several members of Ivanoff's family flew to Juneau for the signing.

"The family might have a little closure for her death," said Ivanoff's father, Larry Ivanoff. "But I don't think you'll ever have closure because we'll continue missing her."

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