Kotzebue man pleads guilty to murder of Ashley Johnson-Barr, faces 99 years in prison
JUNEAU, Alaska (KTUU) - The man accused of killing Ashley Johnson-Barr has pleaded guilty to first-degree murder and first-degree sexual abuse of a minor. He faces 99 years in prison.
The Department of Law announced that Peter Wilson had changed his plea to guilty on Monday. Wilson is set to spend a total of 99 years in prison under the terms of the plea agreement, if it’s accepted by the court, the department added.
Sentencing is to take place on Sept. 21 when a Kotzebue judge will decide whether to accept the terms of the plea agreement.
“As part of the plea, Wilson admitted to all conduct alleged in the initial charging document and at the later grand jury,” the release states.
He also agreed to several aggravating factors being considered in his sentencing.
Ten-year-old Johnson-Barr went missing from a Kotzebue playground on Sept. 6, 2018. Family and community members desperately searched for her before she was discovered dead eight days later outside of town.
Wilson was arrested a short time later.
Hundreds of mourners, including then-Gov. Bill Walker and Sen. Lisa Murkowski, packed the school gymnasium to remember Johnson-Barr. The Alaska Legislature passed a bill to commemorate her on her birthday.
One year later, Scotty Barr, Johnson-Barr’s father, struggled to come to terms with his daughter’s death. He remembered the outpouring of support the family received from across Alaska.
“At least she’s home, she’s found, she’s in a better place” Barr said at the time.
Speaking again to Alaska’s News Source on Monday, Barr said finding out about the plea agreement was a “sigh of relief.” He was restless the night before the court hearing, but said it was good to hear Wilson agree in court to the alleged conduct laid out in charging documents and by the grand jury.
“It was a little intense at some times, but it was also relief of knowing that he’s able to at least admit that he wanted to plead guilty and take the plea deal,” Barr said.
But he’s not celebrating too much right now.
“It’s not over yet, you know,” Barr said. “We’ve got the sentencing.”
For now, Barr said the announcement took a little bit off the family’s shoulders and minds. Barr said he hasn’t missed a court proceeding in his daughter’s case since day one.
“In a way it’s a rewarding thing,” he said. “But, you know ... there’s some sort of justice that still can happen ... for us as well as for other families.”
There’s still a lot of work to be done within Alaska’s court system and justice department, Barr said. There’s a lot of room for improvement, he said, in the Alaska Department of Public Safety.
“Especially in rural communities,” he said.
Barr reflected on the fact that his daughter would now be 13, if she were still alive.
“But now, just memories,” he said. “Memories of the things that she used to do. That hurts a lot.”
Barr said his family is still working to support Johnson-Barr’s siblings, who are still grieving for their sister. They know that the end of the case is nearing, he said.
“Today was an OK day. I can’t say it’s good,” Barr said. “I mean ... it was good enough for me to go ahead and feel a little bit safer and slowly start closing this thing out.”
Editor’s note: This article has been updated with quotes from Scotty Barr, father of the late Ashley Johnson-Barr.
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