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Rossiter resentenced for 2nd-degree murder in 2011 case

Daily News Staff Writer

A Ketchikan man originally sentenced to 36 years for a murder conviction in May 2012 was resentenced Monday to 24 years to serve by Superior Court Judge Trevor Stephens.

 Rossiter, now 26, originally was convicted in 2012 after a two week jury trial in the stabbing death of Nick Stachelrodt in Ketchikan.

 The Alaska Court of Appeals reversed a second-degree murder conviction for Rossiter in September 2017. The reversal according to the appeals court opinion was due to frequent improper points made by a former Ketchikan assistant district attorney in closing arguments that undermined the fundamental fairness of the trial.

The case stems from an incident that occurred March 11, 2011 at the Vallenar View Mobile Home Park.

Rossiter, who had been drinking, was knocking on doors asking people for cigarettes, including the door of Stachelrodt's elderly father.

Stachelrodt, 45, had confronted Rossiter, then 18, as the younger man rifled a car belonging to Stachelrodt's father outside a home the Stachelrodt's shared.

 Stachelrodt and Rossiter struggled, and Stachelrodt was stabbed twice. In one of the wounds the blade stuck an artery behind the collar bone and pierced a lung. Rossiter claimed self-defense.

 During the January 2012 trial, the defense at the time, led by attorney Sam McQuerry, told the jury that the defendant feared for his life and believed he might be kidnapped, raped, or killed. McQuerry said that Rossiter should be convicted of manslaughter instead of murder.

 The prosecutor, the then-Ketchikan assistant district attorney James Scott, repeatedly said during closing arguments that the only way they could find Rossiter not guilty was by believing that "Nick Stachelrodt deserved what he got."

 According to the Alaska Court of Appeals 2017 opinion, the defense successfully argued that Scott's statements mischaracterized the law of self-defense and shifted the burden of proof to the defense, presuming Rossiter was guilty unless they agreed that Stachelrodt "deserved what he got."

After the overturned conviction in 2017, Rossiter was eligible for a re-trial.

In court Monday, Rossiter’s attorney, Julie Willoughby, said Rossiter did not want to go through another trial because he didn’t not want to put himself and the Stachelrodt family through the turmoil of another trial.

As part of a Rule 11 plea agreement, Rossiter pled guilty to the charge of second-degree murder. An original charge of tampering with evidence was dropped. The full sentencing on Monday was 40 years with 16 years suspended, which is less than the original sentencing of 45 years with 10 suspended. Rossiter has already served more than eight years.

With good time, Rossiter will be eligible to apply for parole after 10 years, according to Stephens. Upon his release, Rossiter will have 10 years of probation.

About half a dozen members of Stachelrodt's family were in court Monday.

Lynn Stachelrodt, the deceased's wife, spoke in court, tears in her eyes, saying, "This was really hard the first time, even harder the second time."

She said she had been praying for Rossiter and said she doesn't have to forgive him, but will love him.

Many in the courtroom, including Rossiter teared up when she said, "He's totally different today than he was last time sir. He's not a cold hearted killer, I almost want to give him a hug."

Two of Stachelrodt's daughters also spoke. One advised Rossiter to take all the rehabilitation programs offered so he has something to stand on when he gets out. She said she would write to him. The other spoke about how her daughters would never know their grandfather. She said that sometimes she hates Rossiter; Stachelrodt wasn't there to see her graduate from college or walk her down the aisle.

When it was Rossiter's turn to speak, he said, "I spent the last 8 years wishing I could go back and change the outcome. I wish I could have been a different person."

Before announcing the sentence, Stephens said that in regard to the seriousness of the defense, nothing had changed from the earlier sentencing.

"It was a senseless provoked homicide," said Stephens. He said there was no basis for the self-defense argument.

The tight-knit trailer park community where this crime occurred is no longer the safe haven residents thought it was, according to Stephens.

Stephens noted that Rossiter stood before the court a different man than he was years ago.

"It's one thing to say you want to make a change, it's another to actually do it," said Stevens.

Rossiter has been working in the medical facility at the Goose Creek Correctional Center north of Anchorage. According to the presentencing report, he's been given equivalent training to a certified nursing assistant. Rossiter said he works with end-of-life patients.

Stephens mentioned that Alaska does not have indeterminate sentencing, or sentencing over a range of years, which would allow a perpetrator to be evaluated after a period of time and for time served to be adjusted accordingly.

The sentencing Monday had a cathartic effect, according to Stephens.

"They (the family) have demonstrated an (enlightened) view of things, and recognize the changes that Rossiter has made," said Stephens. "I think that will help them going forward. Recognizing that some things are never going to change."