The youngest female ever convicted of murder as an adult in Alaska could be released after nearly 40 years behind bars following a successful court appeal recently.
Winona Fletcher was 14 in 1985 when she and her then-boyfriend robbed and shot to death three Anchorage residents – Tom Faccio, 69, his wife Ann Faccio, 70, and Ann’s sister Emilia Elliott, 75 – after breaking into the family’s home.
It became a particularly infamous case in Alaska’s largest city, both for its violence and randomness.
Fletcher was following the lead of her 19-year-old boyfriend, Cordell Boyd, said one of her attorneys, Marcelle McDannel, whom McDannel said was sex-trafficking Fletcher.
Fletcher never got a fair chance to be tried in juvenile court, because of a general lack of understanding of childhood psychology in the justice system at the time, McDannel said.
“I would say her youth was used against her, not just ignored,” McDannel said. “They were at a loss to explain her behavior, and I think a lot of that is because of a lack of knowledge of the effects of trauma and the different physiology of kids’ brains.”
Fletcher’s case landed in adult court after a judge ruled she could not be rehabilitated in the juvenile justice system. When she was 15, she pleaded no contest to three counts of murder, and she was sentenced to the maximum penalty: 297 years in prison, which was later reduced to 135 years.
But now, at age 52, Fletcher could get out, after an Alaska Court of Appeals opinion May 12.
Considering Fletcher’s latest appeal in the case, the court cited U.S. Supreme Court decisions, starting in 2005 that “altered the landscape of juvenile sentencing practices” and ultimately found that “children are constitutionally different from adults for purposes of sentencing.”
Alaska legal precedent in the years since Fletcher’s conviction has also resulted in a different handling of juvenile sentences.
The state appeals court opinion says Fletcher’s case should be sent back down to the Superior Court for further litigation. That’s to determine two things: if those legal standards should apply to Fletcher retroactively and, if so, what a new sentence should be.
That means there’s a good chance Fletcher will be released, said McDannel.
“And a lot of this really is because of Winona herself and how well she’s done and how she’s proved everyone wrong about her,” McDannel said. “I mean, she’s already served a lifetime in jail.”
It’s not clear yet if the state will argue to keep Fletcher in prison.
A state assistant attorney general handling Fletcher’s case said Wednesday the Office of Criminal Appeals was evaluating what its next steps would be, including a possible petition for a hearing in the Alaska Supreme Court.