Anchorage District Attorney says state cannot prove beyond a reasonable doubt that S George Peterson did not stab Ellis Kaloke in self-defense.
Following a lengthy investigation, the state has decided not to press charges in the death of Ellis Lee Kaloke last July in Levelock. The 37-year-old was fatally stabbed by S George Peterson, then 20, who claimed self-defense. Despite the recommendation of local Alaska state troopers, prosecutors say there is no evidence to prove the incident was not justifiable deadly force.
What many viewed as a cold-blooded killing the night of July 14 terrified the small Kvichak River village, and even more so when state troopers did not take 20-year-old Peterson into custody. But from the start of the investigation, Peterson was adamant that Kaloke was drunk and had attacked him when Peterson tried to kick him out of the house.
“First thing I thought to myself was, ‘don’t be afraid to defend yourself, don’t be afraid to defend yourself,’” Peterson told KDLG days after the killing. “You know there’s laws that protect you, especially inside your own house. So uh ... yeah, I defended myself.”
According to the state troopers’ investigation, during the fight Peterson grabbed a throwing knife and stabbed Kaloke once in the back, once in the side, and once in the chest. Kaloke stumbled out of the house, collapsed, and eventually died.
Peterson said he had stabbed Kaloke more than once to break off an unrelenting assault. It was the third stab, delivered under Kaloke’s left clavicle, that killed him. It “perforated his left lung and punctured his pulmonary artery, causing him to bleed internally,” according to the autopsy.
The victim’s “blood alcohol concentration was 0.169 g/ml and … contained THC,” said the report.
Peterson called 911 himself to report the incident, then calmly went to a neighbor’s house and joined in a game of Scrabble, not saying a word to anyone for about the next half hour.
Two state troopers arrived late that night and began an investigation. Peterson, who was sober, cooperated with authorities, and had injuries consistent with having been in a fight, was never arrested. Now, officially, the state says he will face no criminal charges over the incident.
“First of all, I can say that it’s a tremendously tragic event, there’s no two ways about that,” said Anchorage District Attorney Rick Allen, who sent a four page letter to state troopers in Bristol Bay detailing his analysis of the case.
Allen spoke with KDLG Friday. He credited the troopers, medical examiner, and assistant district attorney Allison O’Leary for conducting a thorough investigation and leaving “no stone unturned.”
Last week Allen and his team sat down with all of the available facts in hand, including a recommendation by the investigating troopers that Peterson be charged at least with manslaughter.
“We had what we call a roundtable of some of the most senior prosecutors in the state, along with some law enforcement, to really discuss the case and go through and make sure that we’re not missing anything.”
Their conclusion, said Allen, was that the state “cannot prove beyond a reasonable doubt that [Peterson] was not legally justified in using deadly force against Ellis Kaloke.”
There is no evidence, he said, that Peterson was the initial aggressor, or that he did not "reasonably fear" he might suffer serious physical injury in the fight he claims Kaloke started. Peterson’s testimony, said Allen, has stayed consistent throughout the investigation, and his is the only authorities had to work with. Kaloke’s girlfriend, Bonnie Apokedak, had left the house before the fight started and returned after Kaloke was dead.
“There are no other witnesses to the event, and there is evidence that supports Mr. Peterson’s version of the events,” said Allen. “And there is really no evidence that we have that would refute his version of the events.”
If the fight went down the way Peterson described, then the doctrine of self-defense applies, said Allen, and Peterson should not be charged with any crimes. Still, some believe that these ambiguous questions should be left to a jury. And some who know S George Peterson well believe that what happened that night was no accident, that he had more or less premeditated a self-defense killing. State troopers looked into that during their investigation.
But for Allen, who was formerly a part of the team that worked to free the Fairbanks Four, the prosecutor’s job is to seek justice, not convictions.
“Different DAs might give you different answers on this, but I feel strongly that if we as prosecutors don’t believe that a defendant is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, we should not try to convince 12 citizens that that person is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. That’s how innocent people go to prison.”
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