Man implicated in Albright murder jailed
Released on a plea deal, one of three Eagle River men originally charged with murder in the 2010 beating death of Harvey “Charlie” Albright got out of jail in July.
Within just three weeks, Kennith Upton was back behind bars at the Anchorage Correctional Complex after he violated his probation by allegedly getting drunk with a 16-year-old in tow, according to court documents.
As of this week, the 25-year-old Upton remained incarcerated. He faces the possibility of a new sentence in a probation violation hearing today (Thursday, Sept. 20) in Anchorage Superior Court.
[Editor's note: On Monday, Sept. 24, Upton was ordered to serve 60 days for the probation violation. Read the full story here]
Upton’s relatively brief time served and his subsequent arrest rekindled attention on a crime that showed Eagle River’s ugly side.
Upton and two other men — Carl Leedom and Philip Floor — wanted to scare the 23-year-old Albright as payback after the theft of a backpack belonging to Leedom that contained drugs and money.
Albright spent the night of Aug. 23, 2010 at his old friend Upton’s house on North Juanita Loop Road. He woke around 6 a.m. the next morning to a half-dozen punches from Floor, according to court documents.
Upton held Albright down as the men used zip ties to bind Albright’s hands and feet. At some point, Albright screamed at Upton to help him, according to his relatives. During the struggle, Leedom pulled a pistol and crushed Albright’s skull.
Floor and Leedom drove to the Mat-Su with Albright’s body. They dumped it near the Matanuska River in the Butte. Upton stayed behind cleaning up the blood.
Albright, reported missing, wasn’t found for days. Floor, who implicated himself and the other two in a confession to Anchorage police, eventually led authorities to the body.
A grand jury indicted all three on various murder counts.
A jury convicted Floor of manslaughter during his April trial, but acquitted him on second-degree murder charges. He’s serving five years and scheduled for release in 2017.
Leedom is awaiting trial in January.
Upton got his murder charge knocked down to criminally negligent homicide in a plea deal. In late July, Anchorage Superior Court Judge Jack Smith sentenced him to four years, two suspended, and five years probation; Smith handed down a sentence of two years on a separate charge of evidence tampering.
Upton had already served two years. He got out of jail in late July.
‘Unwilling or unable’
Albright’s family met with prosecutors before the decision to make a deal with Upton, according to his mother and his aunt, Sheila Cullen.
Prosecutors warned them that Floor’s manslaughter charge indicated it was unlikely that Upton’s murder charge would stick, since his role in Albright’s death was less vicious than Floor’s, Cullen said.
“They thought it best to get a plea bargain with the agreement he testified,” she said. “We weren’t happy at all. This was a case of premeditated murder. There’s no other way to put it.”
There was one consolation, Cullen said. “For the greater purpose, Carl Leedom still has to go to trial. If it means Kenny takes the plea bargain and he has to testify against Carl, that’s what he has to do.”
In the meantime, Upton didn’t stay out of jail for long.
He got drunk and found a fight at 3 a.m. on Aug. 15, according to a petition to revoke probation filed by prosecutors on Aug. 17. Among the terms of his probation: not exceeding the legal limit when drinking alcohol. That night, Upton blew a .122 — the limit is .08.
Upton also tried to fight with the Anchorage police officer involved in the arrest, according to the petition. A 16-year-old with him was also under the influence of alcohol.
Arrested Aug. 20, Upton returned to jail on $2,500 cash or corporate bail and release to a third-party custodian to supervise him at all times.
His probation officer is recommending that Upton serve no less than six months of suspended time, to run consecutive with any action taken by the Alaska Board of Parole. He also recommended absolutely no alcohol consumption.
“Mr. Upton is on probation supervision for taking the life of another person. At the current time he is unwilling or unable to address his substance abuse issues and has shown little regard for his conditions of probation,” wrote probation officer Joshua Hooyer.
Originally, police reported that Albright was beaten because he stole Leedom’s backpack. But during Floor’s trial, Albright’s girlfriend testified she stole it, his family members say.
The pack held several thousand dollars in cash, a firearm, and numerous drugs: a quarter-ounce of cocaine; 1.7 grams of methamphetamine; and a few prescription pills, according to a report from the state crime lab.
Albright’s mother, Brenda, said her son told her he was worried about crashing at Upton’s house because he knew Leedom would be there.
“He told me there was some problems,” Brenda Albright said. “He didn’t want to go back to the house because Carl was there and threatening him. Then he went to the house and said Carl was fine.”
Charlie asked Upton if he could crash at the house and Upton agreed, she said. “But everybody crashed at Kenny’s house.”
Charlie’s girlfriend told Brenda Albright that she knew something was wrong when she walked into Upton’s house and he wasn’t there.
“She said the house was spotless and nobody would give her straight answers,” Brenda Albright said. “She said she could smell the bleach. I told her I was on my way.”
Upton’s role was less violent than that of the others charged in Albright’s death. But as far as Albright’s friends and family are concerned, what Upton did was in some ways worse. He betrayed Charlie.
Charlie knew Leedom through a mutual acquaintance, and knew Floor in passing, his mother said.
But Albright and Upton grew up together. They both attended Fire Lake Elementary. Albright would spend nights at Upton’s house. Albright’s family knew Upton.
“I always told Charlie, ‘I don’t care who you’re with, don’t trust nobody,’” Brenda Albright said earlier this month. “‘Mom,’ he said. ‘It’s OK. Kenny’s got my back.’”
Albright lives on the Kenai Peninsula. She comes to Anchorage for every court hearing in the case with Charlie’s ashes in an urn. That way, Albright says, her son is there with her.
They’ll both be at Kenny’s probation violation hearing this week.
Zaz Hollander is a freelance writer. Write to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.