Former soldier awaits sentencing in daughter’s death

Thursday, July 6, 2017 - 15:28
  • Nesbett Courthouse in Anchorage on June 20, 2017. (Star photo by Kirsten Swann)

Nearly four years after a passerby found an abandoned infant in an Eagle River park, the little girl’s mother is scheduled to appear again in Anchorage district court.

This time, Ashley Ard is expected to change her plea, court records show. Originally charged with second-degree murder for her daughter’s death, Ard now plans to plead guilty to a modified charge of manslaughter, her attorney said.

Tentatively scheduled for July 31, the change of plea marks the beginning of the end of a case first filed in October 2013.

“We always have a desire to move cases or trials as quickly as we can,” said Anchorage District Attorney Clint Campion. “Unfortunately there are far too many cases that are important to the community that are delayed for far too long.

Ard’s case involved psychological tests, disputes over expert witnesses, belated case filings and rescheduled hearings, according to court records. The most recent delay involved a dispute over the mandatory minimum sentence that should apply — defense lawyers say it should be three, prosecutors think it should be five. The maximum sentence for manslaughter is 20 years in prison.

Her lawyer, Anchorage defense attorney Rex Butler, said it took time to gather the facts of the case, speak with experts and study a number of similar cases.

“Cases like this, sometimes it takes time to really get a handle on what was going on that created the scenario that resulted in what occurred,” Butler said.

Ard was a 24-year-old soldier and mother when she gave birth to a daughter in her Eagle River home, according to court records. According to court records, she left the baby in a nearby park sometime that night. The infant was discovered dead hours later, wrapped in a towel and left under a bush, police said.

Ard suffered “mental confusion” throughout, her defense attorneys claimed. Prosecutors seemed to think differently. The plea deal would put an end to the discussion.

“The reality is, we don’t have the ability to try every case,” Campion said.

Under the terms of the plea deal, Ard would agree to open sentencing and waive her right to a three-judge panel, court records show. Butler said he expected a judge to decide which minimum sentencing standard to apply to the case. Ard, currently incarcerated at Hiland Mountain Correctional Center, has been free for most of the last four years.

The manslaughter plea would bring a welcome note of finality for everyone involved, attorneys said.

“It’s certainly not what we wanted, but it’s better than what we had,” Butler said.

Following Ard’s upcoming change of plea, Judge Kevin Saxby would schedule a sentencing hearing and order a pre-sentencing report, Campion said. The process generally takes about three months, he said.

“That’s an important tool, and it’s not something that can be done overnight,” Campion said.

Still, he said, after nearly four years of back-and-forths, he’s ready to see it end. Ard’s case has gone on for too long, he said.

“We want to get to sentencing as soon as we can,” Campion said.

Email reporter Kirsten Swann at [email protected]

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