Alaska Appeals Court tosses manslaughter conviction 18 years after fatal shooting

The Boney Courthouse, the older of the two state courthouses in Anchorage, which houses the Alaska Court of Appeals. (Wikimedia Commons photo)

An Anchorage man convicted in a fatal car-to-car shooting in 2004 has had his conviction thrown out because a judge improperly denied his request to represent himself at trial.

That’s according to an Alaska Court of Appeals opinion published Friday that reverses Steven Hinshaw’s conviction for manslaughter.

Hinshaw, 38, appears to have already served the 11-year sentence he received.

According to court documents, a friend had called Hinshaw one night for protection from two other people who said they wanted to beat her up. Later, Hinshaw was in a car driving on Anchorage’s Lake Otis Parkway when he saw the two would-be assailants and allegedly fired his revolver into their car, hitting one in the neck and killing her, the court documents say.

Anchorage police tracked Hinshaw to Maryland, and, after recording his phone calls with what’s known as a Glass warrant, arrested him. Back in Alaska, a grand jury indicted Hinshaw for first-degree murder.

Then, according to the Appeals Court opinion, Hinshaw had a series of court-appointed attorneys who kept withdrawing and replacing each other for various reasons. He was unhappy with the attorney he had as they were headed toward trial and Hinshaw sought to represent himself, the opinion says.

Because self-representation is often a bad move for defendants, the judge in the case went to great lengths to explain the consequences to Hinshaw, including that if he were convicted, he might end up in prison for life.

Hinshaw continued to pursue self-representation and showed that he was competent enough to represent himself and could present his case in a coherent way, without being disruptive, the Appeals Court opinion says.

But the judge denied Hinshaw’s request to represent himself, the case went to trial and Hinshaw still had the attorney he didn’t like. And while he was acquitted on the murder charge, Hinshaw was convicted of the lesser included charge of manslaughter.

Hinshaw filed a petition for post-conviction relief in 2011 that – now, 11 years later – led to the Appeals Court throwing out his conviction and sending the case back to the trial court. But because Hinshaw was acquitted on the murder charge, he can only be tried again for manslaughter, the opinion says.

Responding to a Friday morning email asking whether the state planned to retry Hinshaw, a Department of Law spokesperson said the state attorneys were still discussing it.

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Casey Grove is the host of Alaska News Nightly and a general assignment reporter at Alaska Public Media with an emphasis on crime and courts. Reach him at cgrove@alaskapublic.org.