Court of Appeals orders resentencing in 1985 Winona Fletcher triple murder case

Fletcher, the youngest woman ever convicted for murder in Alaska at age 14, was sentenced to 135 years in 1986
Court of Appeals orders resentencing in 1985 Winona Fletcher triple murder case
Published: May. 19, 2023 at 4:54 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - The Alaska Court of Appeals says the state must revisit Winona Fletcher’s 135-year prison sentence. Fletcher was the youngest woman ever convicted of murder in Alaska at age 14 after she was found guilty of the murders of two women in a 1985 triple homicide case.

On April 22, 1985, Fletcher, along with 19-year-old Cordell Boyd, broke into the home of 69-year-old Tom Faccio and his 70-year-old wife Ann in the Russian Jack neighborhood. Boyd and Fletcher had planned a robbery, but ultimately shot and killed the elderly couple, along with Ann’s 76-year-old sister Emma Elliot, who was present at the time of the break-in.

The sensational nature of the crime made the case a lightning rod in Alaska, amid a national tough-on-crime atmosphere that pushed for strong criminal sentences.

Boyd pled guilty to the murder of Tom Faccio, and Fletcher pled no contest to the murder of Ann Faccio and Emma Elliot. Fletcher was tried as an adult because the court found her resistant to potential rehabilitation.

Court documents say Fletcher had a “chaotic living environment” and “experienced sexual, physical, and emotional abuse from the key adults in her life.” Fletcher’s mother testified that Boyd began a sexual relationship with Fletcher when he was 18 and she was 13 after she had lost her home and was working as a prostitute in Anchorage.

Fletcher’s mother also claimed the murder was Boyd’s idea, and a counselor at McLaughlin Youth Center said Fletcher was dependent on Boyd and would follow his orders. However, Boyd testified Fletcher “showed little reluctance to participate in the crimes” and said the murder was actually Fletcher’s idea. Boyd’s testimony was the basis for the court’s finding that Fletcher was not coerced or manipulated into the two murders. By the time of his testimony, Boyd had made a plea deal, and he later recanted his testimony and “told Fletcher’s attorney that he had lied during his testimony.” In an interview days after Fletcher was convicted, Boyd said he “directed Fletcher to kill both women.”

Fletcher was given two consecutive 99-year prison sentences for each murder — later adjusted to three 45-year sentences — for a total of 135 years.

Fletcher has since appealed that sentence, claiming new research and changed legal standards undermine the original conviction, and that her sentence meets the standard for cruel and unusual punishment because the court didn’t provide a “meaningful opportunity to obtain release based on demonstrated maturity and rehabilitation”.

In an opinion issued on May 12, Chief Judge Marjorie K. Allard writing for the Alaska Court of Appeals said a series of U.S. Supreme Court decisions have changed the legal standard for juvenile sentencing, concluding that “children are constitutionally different from adults for purposes of sentencing” because modern research on child development undermines the “justifications for imposing the harshest sentences on juvenile offenders, even when they commit terrible crimes.”

Allard wrote that, “The Alaska Constitution requires a sentencing court to consider a juvenile offender’s youth and its attendant characteristics before sentencing a juvenile tried as an adult to the functional equivalent of life without parole.” Allard also wrote that the sentencing judge failed to properly consider the relevancy of Fletcher’s age and traumatic life experiences when evaluating her potential for rehabilitation.

The court found that “assuming this new constitutional rule is retroactive, the defendant in this case, Winona M. Fletcher, is entitled to a resentencing in which her youth and its attendant characteristics are properly considered.”

Fletcher won’t necessarily be released or even have her sentence reduced — the decision only means the Alaska Superior Court must now reconsider her sentence in light of the Court of Appeals’ analysis. Fletcher is now 53 years old and is eligible for parole under the current sentence at age 60.

The larger implication for other appeals of past juvenile convictions remains to be seen. Victims’ advocates are concerned that this will drag up old wounds for victims and their families.

“Having decades-old wounds ripped back open should never be taken lightly. These victims and survivors and loved ones will be transported back to some of the worst days of their lives.” said Suki Miller, executive director of Victims for Justice.

Victims for Justice was founded in 1985 by the daughters of Tom and Ann Faccio to advocate for victims’ rights within the legal system.

The Alaska Superior Court’s resentencing hearing has not been scheduled.