State cold case prosecutor Gullufsen retires

Posted: Monday, July 26, 2010

From throwing jumpers and lay-ups through the hoops on the hardwood courts of Juneau-Douglas High School, to throwing the book at criminals in the Alaska court system, Patrick Gullufsen hit the courts to bring state championships to JDHS and justice to the people of Alaska.

Gullufsen stepped away from the hoops activities years ago but only this month decided to retire from 29 years of law service for the State of Alaska.

"The timing was kind of driven by personal issues," Gullufsen said. "But I am getting up there. I have been around the law courts long enough and there is new blood there that is active and talented and ready to roll."

Born and raised in Juneau, Gullufsen was part of two Crimson Bears state championship basketball teams, in 1960-61 and 1962-63.

"I consider that to be one of my more memorable achievements," Gullufsen said of his role on his first state championship squad. "I happened to get onto the team at the end of the season as a freshman. I wasn't a major player on that team but I was on it."

That season the Crimson Bears went to Seward and stopped the Seahawks 46-45 for the state title. Those were the days when the top team from Southeast at the end of the season would play the top team from up north. Schools of all sizes battled on the same court without enrollment restrictions.

"Just like in law," Gullufsen said. "Everyone gets the same playing field."

As a junior, Gullufsen started on the Bears' squad that traveled to Fairbanks and defeated Eilsen in a three-game series.

Gullufsen remembered travels in Southeast in Alaska Coastal Airways-operated PBYs and Grumon Geese, and playing every school from Haines to Metlakatla and all points between. The state ferry system was not operational then, and fishing boats served as passenger vessels if planes couldn't fly.

After graduation, Gullufsen thought the world was passing him by.

"I really hadn't been out of Juneau much at all," Gullufsen said. "That was a point and time when a lot of kids were starting to go to college, and I thought all my life's significant events were going to unfold without me."

Gullufsen attended Arizona State University then transferred to the University of Washington for a bachelor's degree in history in 1970.

"I often asked myself why I started law," Gullufsen said. "I majored in history so when I came back to Juneau there wasn't much I was qualified for and I was married and had to keep groceries on the table."

He applied and was accepted to the University of Washington's School of Law.

"The truth be known, once you get out of law school you really don't know what you are doing," Gullufsen said with a laugh. "You know how to find out what the law is but there are a lot of things you have yet to learn. The biggest thing I learned was if you are going to present a good case to the jury, forget the [B.S.], get down to the facts of the case, and present those facts in a credible way to them. People have a lot of common sense; juries do a great job, you just have to present them the facts."

His first job in his law career was as a Superior Court law clerk in Juneau for Judge Tom Stewart, a former secretary of the constitutional convention. Gullufsen also clerked for Judge Victor Carlson from Sikta and Judge Tom Schultz of Ketchikan. From those clerkships, he went to Fairbanks to work for the district attorney's office and then became the special statewide prosecutor. He returned to Juneau with the Department of Law doing special prosecutions.

Gullufsen entered private practice in Juneau after leaving the Department of Law before becoming the Assistant Attorney General in the Government Affairs Section of the Civil Division in 1992.

In 2005, he became a deputy attorney general and lead the Criminal Division, under then-Attorney General Bruce Botelho before returning to Juneau in 2006 to complete his career as a prosecutor.

"I have really enjoyed the challenges and learning so many new things," Gullufsen said. "Particularly in criminal law, where advances in technology have been startling. DNA technology has been very influential... . That is not to say that it is the solution in every case, in no means is that true, but in homicides and sexual assaults it has become more important and focused on."

The last three years of his career were as the Department of Law's cold case prosecutor. Cold cases are cases no longer being actively investigated, primarily because investigation has not led to gathering enough evidence to charge for a crime.

"I knew a lot of the investigators doing cold case investigations for the Department of Public Safety and it sounded interesting," Gullufsen said.

The state troopers built a list of over 100 unsolved homicides dating back to 1962 and began to prioritize those into possible action. Gullufsen began looking at some and presenting them to the grand jury.

Five notable ones went to trial and were prosecuted: The separate trials of John Carlin and Mechele Linehan who were found guilty of conspiring to, and then murdering Linehan's fiancé Kent Leppink in 2006. Linehan's conviction was reversed on appeal and will be retried.

In 2008, he prosecuted Derek Sawyer for murder. Sawyer was convicted of shooting his wife in the face while she slept and blamed it on their two-year-old child.

This year he resurrected two cold murder cases for prosecution: The 1982 murder of Toni Lister in Kenai and the 2003 killing of Dennis Kane in Anchorage. Gullufsen sought and got murder convictions in both of those formerly cold cases.

"It has been interesting," Gullufsen said. "I have tried cases from Ketchikan to Barrow and many places in between. It has been a rewarding opportunity to meet lots of interesting, dedicated people ... defense attorneys included. ... It has been a great experience. A lot of work but a great education every day at work."

Gullufsen said he is looking at getting a big boat to enjoy more of Juneau than he had time for while bringing state championships and safe streets to the Capital City and mentioned there were so many people that helped him along the way he would leave some out if he tried to thank them all.

When asked if he would go back to work if called, Gullufsen said "I would certainly be willing to help. I have retired but many cases get continued fairly frequently. An old horse like me, you can just keep going and keep going."

• Contact Klas Stolpe at

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