'Papa Pilgrim' to plead no contest

Hale likely to receive 14 years in prison for rape, assault, incest

Posted: Sunday, December 24, 2006

ANCHORAGE - The man known as "Papa Pilgrim" who waged a high-profile fight against the National Park Service to get access to his land inside Wrangell-St. Elias National Park is expected to plead no contest to charges that include incest.

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Robert Hale, 65, has been in jail for more than a year, awaiting trial on charges of rape, assault and incest. He is scheduled to go on trial in Glennallen on Jan. 16.

Hale has agreed to plead no-contest to 10 counts of first-degree sexual assault, and multiple counts of incest and coercion. As part of the agreement filed Thursday, the state will drop a kidnapping charge and single counts of assault in the first-, second- and third-degree.

The 30 felony charges reach back seven years, prosecutors said.

In a request filed in court Thursday, Hale's public defender said his client is willing to plead no contest in exchange for a 14-year prison sentence.

No court hearing has been scheduled yet to accept the plea, but lawyers on both sides said they expect a prompt hearing. Hale can change his mind at any time before the hearing. Even if the court accepts such a plea, a defendant can withdraw it under certain circumstances up until the final sentence is handed down.

A trial would have required many of Hale's 15 children and his wife to testify against him.

"It's a very fair resolution," said Palmer assistant district attorney Robert Payne.

Hale has diabetes and has received extensive medical treatment at Cook Inlet Pre-Trial Facility for infections. He turned down a recent request for an interview with the Anchorage Daily News after speaking with his lawyer, Palmer public defender Lee de Grazia.

De Grazia said she couldn't answer questions about Hale's decision until after the plea had been entered in front of Superior Court Judge Donald Hopwood, who was scheduled to preside over the trial.

Hale had lived with his family on a remote mining site inside Wrangell-St. Elias National Park since 2002, four years after coming to Alaska from New Mexico. The family, known as the Pilgrims, were engaged in a fight with the federal government over access to their land. It was touched off by Papa Pilgrim's use of a bulldozer to clear an abandoned mining road. Papa Pilgrim said God directed him to open the road.

The Pilgrims lived a cut-off life adhering to rules of Scripture as interpreted by Papa. He presented himself as a pious and humble servant of the Lord, describing his clan as "the epitome of a wilderness family."

Several months before the charges against Hale were filed, the older Hale children moved away from the family's homestead.

According to Alaska State Troopers investigators, the family was unaware of the long history of sexual assault and incest outlined in the charges against Hale. An unusually violent incident in January 2005 helped bring his activities to light, they said.

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