My previous Watchman column documented several instances where judges and prosecutors have worked together to destroy the constitutionally protected right of grand juries to investigate state corruption.

We saw how this collusion goes all the way to the top. In 2022 Chief Justice Daniel Winfree and Attorney General Treg Taylor met privately to restrict citizen access to grand juries. Their meeting evidenced a disturbing breach of the separation of powers that is critical in ensuring good government.

Today’s column will highlight an even more disturbing way in which judges and prosecutors can manipulate grand juries. It will show how these officials teamed up to throw an innocent young man in jail for the rest of his life using extremely dubious allegations.

His case encapsulates the ultimate tyranny of an out-of-control government where our constitutional rights no longer matter, and grand juries are misled into “rubber stamping” abuses of power.


Our Constitution requires prosecutors to obtain an indictment from a grand jury before charging a citizen with a major crime. This “shield” function of the grand jury finds its roots in English common law going back almost 1,000 years ago. Grand juries were created to curb abuses by prosecutors.

When seeking an indictment, the prosecutor has a duty to seek a just result. To fulfill this duty the prosecutor is obligated to present the grand jury with evidence tending to refute, as well as establish guilt.

When prosecutors withhold important exculpatory evidence from the grand jury, judges have an obligation to dismiss the improperly obtained indictment. A fair and just legal system depends on judges not looking the other way when prosecutors break the law.

But that’s exactly what Justice Winfree and eight other judges did in the wrongful conviction of Thomas Jack, Jr. They looked the other way when prosecutors withheld significant amounts of exculpatory evidence from the grand jury. They negated Jack’s constitutional protections from prosecutorial abuse, just like they’ve negated the constitutional right of citizens to request grand jury investigations into that abuse.


To give readers an idea just how egregious the actions of the prosecutors and judges involved in Jack’s case were, consider the recent statement of Bob Barton, a decorated former military pilot who served our country for 25 years.

Barton said, “I expected that the charges against Thomas would be dropped as soon as the allegations had been properly investigated. I never expected Thomas’ case to go to trial and can’t imagine how he could be convicted in a fair trial by an impartial jury… Law enforcement’s failure to interview me enforced my belief there was no merit to the accusations and the case would be dismissed.”

Barton’s statement carries considerable weight. After serving his country, Barton moved to Hoonah with his wife Kay and became the pastor of the United Pentecostal Church. Over the last 30 years Barton has also worked as a substitute teacher and has been called on by the Hoonah police and residents to help diffuse domestic violence situations.

All of this evidence was highly exculpatory and credible. Yet none of it was given to the grand jury. Prosecutors led the grand jury straight into an unjust result.

Barton was the pastor of Jack and his wife Angela and was close to them. When the young couple decided to adopt two young girls in the foster care system, Barton and his wife became close to the girls as well. When the oldest girl, “T.T.” alleged that Jack had sexually assaulted her, Barton was as close as anyone to the situation besides Angela and the accuser’s sister, “Z.T.” 

Barton had this to say about the prosecutor who obtained the indictment against Jack, “I recall that when Assistant District Attorney Angie Kemp figured out who I was, she stopped asking me questions and that didn’t sit well with me. In my view, prosecutors are obligated to follow the truth regardless of the result it leads to.”

Barton is 100% correct. Yet every appellate judge in Alaska let it slide when Kemp and the other prosecutors involved in Jack’s wrongful conviction didn’t follow the truth. They teamed up to railroad an innocent young man into jail for the rest of his life.


One of the critical pieces of exculpatory evidence that Kemp did not provide the grand jury was a letter from a Hoonah teacher, a mandatory reporter by law, that T.T. had confided to her the allegations were not true.

Also excluded was a prior statement by T.T. to the primary OCS social worker in Juneau, Leah Ogoy, that completely contradicted her allegations. Also excluded were facts stated by both Angela and Z.T. that rendered most of T.T.’s allegations an impossibility. Also excluded was evidence that it was an authorized visit by the biological mother, not Jack’s behavior, which led to significant stress in the family which led to OCS terminating the adoption proceedings. Also excluded was evidence of T.T.’s motivation to lie.

All of this evidence was highly exculpatory and credible. Yet none of it was given to the grand jury. Prosecutors led the grand jury straight into an unjust result.

The prosecution’s avoidance of the truth included not interviewing the Hoonah teacher even though they had her letter in their possession. They didn’t interview Barton even though Ogoy’s notes identified him as a key witness. They didn’t interview Angela, even though she was in the house at all times T.T. claimed the sexual assaults occurred.

Prosecutors limited the grand jury to the testimony of T.T. and Ogoy. According to Jack’s initial attorney, Natasha Norris, Ogoy’s testimony was misleading.

Ogoy’s testimony was a dramatic change from her previous observations of Jack. In an earlier email to a colleague she had praised Jack writing, “Boy, is he in a hard place, all of those girls wanting his attention. However, he is a very calm and thoughtful man and stands firm when he needs to…. They are a young and very naïve couple that need a lot of support. They are not raising babes with a clean slate, and these are their first children.”

When testifying to the grand jury, Ogoy said nothing about her admiration for Jack. She didn’t tell the grand jurors the girls didn’t have a clean slate. She didn’t tell the grand jurors that Jack had expressed concerns about behaviors the girls exhibited. She didn’t tell the grand jury that prior to T.T.’s confession to the teacher, T.T. had also told Ogoy that Jack hadn’t done anything inappropriate to her.

Jack has now been in prison for the last 14 years. The State’s blatant disregard of Jack’s constitutional rights has victimized not only him, but many other Alaskans.

Instead, Ogoy told the grand jurors that Jack hadn’t specifically denied the allegations during some secretly recorded conversations. But he clearly had.

Norris asked Juneau Superior Court Judge Philip Pallenberg to fulfill his duty to dismiss the illegally obtained indictment. Norris highlighted Jack’s many denials in those secret recordings, including “I don’t know what else to do. How many more ways I can say no.”  These exculpatory statements weren’t disclosed to the grand jury either.

Pallenberg turned his head and looked away from all the exculpatory evidence that Norris raised. He refused to dismiss the case, ruling that Jack’s repeated denials did not tend to negate his guilt.

The rout was on and soon it was Pallenberg’s turn to violate Jack’s constitutional rights.  When Jack’s family ran out of money and Norris withdrew from the case, Pallenberg forced Jack to go to trial with a new State appointed attorney who was grossly unprepared after the judge refused to give him a continuance.

Jack is an Alaska Native, but Pallenberg and Kemp combined to dismiss all Alaska Natives who were called to serve on his jury. The resulting illegal jury convicted Jack, and Pallenberg sentenced him to 50 years in prison.

Jack’s state appointed appellate attorney, Brooke Berens, focused most of the appeal on the illegal grand jury indictment. Berens emphasized Jack’s “numerous” denials that the grand jury wasn’t allowed to hear. But Court of Appeal judges Marjorie Allard, J. Patrick Hanley, and David Mannheimer also turned their heads and ruled in favor of the prosecutors.

Berens next petitioned the Supreme Court, but Winfree along with justices Joel Bolger, Dana Fabe, Peter Maassen, and Craig Stowers declined to hear the case. At every level, Alaska’s judiciary made excuses for prosecutors who withheld critical evidence from the grand jury.

State officials may have thought they could bully Jack into accepting a plea bargain like so many other Alaska Natives do. But they miscalculated when they ignored Ogoy’s observation that “he stands firm when he needs to.” 

Jack still retains his presumption of innocence because he has never been tried by a jury of his peers. His tribe, the Hoonah Indian Association, wants him immediately released from prison and has called for a grand jury investigation into his wrongful conviction.

Jack has now been in prison for the last 14 years. The State’s blatant disregard of Jack’s constitutional rights has victimized not only him, but many other Alaskans. His mother and father (now in their 80s), his four sisters, and his many nieces and nephews have suffered the loss of love, support, and protection that he provided.


The Jack case provides valuable insight into why Alaska Natives are so over-represented in our prisons. Jack’s oldest sister, Yvette DeBlois, explains it this way:

“Thomas’ reality is that he sits in prison because the ‘system’ ‘felt’ he was guilty. Not because they had evidence or eyewitnesses. They convicted him because they ‘could.’ Thomas was a ‘win’ for a new prosecutor, and yet another ‘native boy’ from a village they thought ‘probably’ did it…. Thomas was sucked into the ‘justice system’ and spit out! Right into a prison cell.”

DeBlois has impressive credentials to support her views. She graduated with honors from Temple University with a master’s degree in social work. Her resume includes working as a program manager for a domestic violence shelter in Los Angeles and serving as the liaison to the Coalition Against Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault for Los Angeles County. She’s also married to an FBI agent.

 A few years ago, I contacted the Executive Director of the Alaska Innocence Project, William Oberly, and sent him my 60-page report on Jack’s wrongful conviction. Oberly told me that what happened to Jack is not unusual in Alaska – he gets similar cases across his desk all the time.

I corroborated Oberly’s viewpoint with a trusted source in the Department of Corrections. My source described how easy it is for prosecutors to pad their stats by obtaining plea bargains from Alaska Natives, especially those living in villages. My source said many Alaska Natives reluctantly take these deals because of the likelihood they won’t get a fair shot in our criminal justice system where explicit and implicit bias run rampant.

Convictions like Jack’s and the Fairbanks Four evidence this truth. In the latter, four separate juries found each of the Fairbanks Four guilty. Not one of the 48 jurors got it right.

An Alaska Native who lives in Hoonah used the analogy of a floating iceberg to explain what justice in the Jack case could mean to his people. He compared it to a small chunk of ice above the surface that falls off, causing the iceberg to wobble and roll over, exposing a huge mass of injustice that was previously beneath the surface.

State officials may have thought they could bully Jack into accepting a plea bargain like so many other Alaska Natives do. But they miscalculated when they ignored Ogoy’s observation that “he stands firm when he needs to.” 

The truth of Jack’s wrongful conviction can help reform a misguided legal system that enriches itself at the expense of disadvantaged Alaska Native inmates, foster children, and their families. But the systemic injustice will continue to prevail unless “we the people” set out to prove we are the moral people we claim to be. Looking the other way, like our prosecutors and judges, won’t cut it.

The views expressed here are those of the author.

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OPINION: Alaska judges allow prosecutors to mislead grand juries

David Ignell
David Ignell was born and raised in Juneau, where he currently resides. He holds a law degree from University of San Diego and formerly practiced as a licensed attorney in California. He has experience as a volunteer analyst for the California Innocence Project, and is currently a forensic journalist and author of a recent book on the Alaska Grand Jury.


  • Clown World says:

    Not exactly surprising…

  • Clark says:

    I hate the spin put on these stories.

    You can’t call most of those examples exculpatory. ‘Repeated denials’ for example, means jack squat. Also, even assuming its true the accuser told someone he hadn’t been inappropriate, that is COMMON in cases where minors who are abused lie out of shame or fear. It’s not exculpatory,
    Its circumstantial. You can try to attack the credibility of the witness. However, trying to discredit a minor child is likely to piss off a jury just on principle.

    Its interesting that there were no natives on the jury. What are the demographics of the place the crimes supposedly occurred? My only guess is that with the closeknit community, everyone knows everybody and the gossip mills and everything. That could be seen as creating a bias in his favor. The fact his tribe contests his conviction as a group highlights this problem. If any of ‘his people’ were on the jury, they wouldn’t convict him regardless.

    • Older than Alaska says:

      Clark, the trial was held in Juneau and not in Hoonah. So much for a jury of your peers! Essentially a jury of California or Washington State born white people, (I wonder how many were men?) decided Thomas Jack’s fate. As for discrediting a minor child’s testimony… what about the victim so called sister? Her testimony said it never happened.

  • James says:

    How this injustice played out is exactly why I’d never adopt children or become involved in anyway with any minor, other than as an anonymous reporter. When the fix is on, Alaskan prosecutors will get a conviction, as they hold all the cards, can subvert the truth and are not held responsible to act within constitutional limits… ie they can and often do lie, while the judges always look the other way. Justice equates to “just US” for too many native Alaskan people. This is wrong and there are too many cases like this being ignored by Alaskan judges. Our broken system of incarceration must be addressed and our constitutional values must be upheld as a minimum standard… not ignored.

  • DaveMaxwell says:

    It’s been fourteen years! The native girl is now a woman who carries a broken conscience! Someone like the teacher who was confided in ought to approach the young woman and pry the door of truth open to set all involved finally free!

    • Mickey says:

      Both sisters TT and ZT testified at his parole hearing a few years ago. Neither renigged on their original story.

      • David Ignell says:

        ZT’s original story was that nothing happened. She corroborated Mrs. Jack’s testimony that the two girls slept in the same bed. She was adamant that Mr. Jack hadn’t “done it” with her sister.

  • Cod says:

    I urge legislators (and citizens) to click on the 2nd link in this article. It’s a short letter from our Supreme Court Justice COLLUDING with our Executive branch (Alaska’s AG) to sidestep our Constitution and statutory laws. Our AG sent Skidmore and Mead(?) to lobby legislators and borough assemblies spouting absolute untruths about Grand Juries to them. Previous to the collusion outlined in this letter,We The People were promised by the State that Skidmore would NOT be involved in the GJ process that was taking place at that time. Skidmore was/is one of the individuals that was being investigated by the GJ for unlawfully stopping Grand Jurors from doing their duty previously.
    Support your Grand Juries. Our constitutional founders proclaimed the importance of them being able to investigate corrupt govt officials. Let Jurors do their job. What is our govt afraid of??? Lastly, Judge Mathews…..Release the GJ report you’ve had for 9+ months and release is it FULL!!!

  • H.Nelson says:

    Yes they do. A DA coached a witness to say “assault rifle” during their testimony. When confronted, the DA did not want to talk about it. The witness made it sound like drunk rambo with a belt fed machine gun attacked their house. Reality- drunk old fart with a 10/22.

  • Betty Jo says:

    Chief Justice Bolger and Justices Maassen, Winfree and Carney wrote a letter to Fellow Alaskans in 2020. Please read the letter at
    I heard Governor Dunleavy say that Alaska needs judicial reform in one of his speeches for re-election. He is absolutely correct. Write Governor Dunleavy and ask him to work in collaboration government-to-government with HIA and sign the pardon for Mr. Jack.
    SCO 1993 violates every Alaskans constitutional right Article I Sec. 8 to present before a grand jury concerning the public safety and well-being.
    The only remedy when a judge violates the constitution and/or the laws is for Governor Dunleavy to exercise his authority and power in Article III Sec. 16 – The governor shall be responsible for the faithful execution of the laws.
    Senator Shower has been sponsoring bill for the last couple years regarding judicial reform. SB 14 and SB 31.
    Now you can contact your Senators and Representatives and support HB 82 Review and Selection of Judges.

  • John says:

    It happens every where in the world! O. J. Prove money talks

  • Linette Coronell says:

    So many wrongs in this trial for Thomas Jack. And sadly an innocent man has lost 14 years of his life and time with his family. It’s time we natives come together in support of each other and use our voices to ensure fairness and equality for all.

  • Truth Seeker says:

    I like how this is an Opinion article written as though it is factual. Mr. Ignell is obviously biased in his article. He sets this up as he talks about a previous article he’s written that he felt showed abuse of power then goes on to say this is even worse. So clearly he is one sided.
    Then come in the inaccuracies as he moves to his first point stating it’s a prosecutors’ duty to seek justice. A prosecutors’ duty is to keep the community safe the first and foremost by prosecuting criminals who break the law and then their duty is to protect and support victims. He continues to mislead his readers as he attempts to prove his point saying “Grand juries were created to curb abuses by prosecutors.” According to “A grand jury focuses on preliminary criminal matters only and assesses evidence presented by a prosecutor to determine whether there is “probable cause” to believe an individual committed a crime and should be put on trial. If the grand jury determines there is enough evidence, an indictment will be issued against the individual.” (,should%20be%20put%20on%20trial.)
    Alaska Grand Jury Handbook pages 12-16 clearly state the purpose of the Grand Jury, what evidence it will hear and how it is to make a decision. (
    When an attorney like Mr Ignell says “the prosecutor is obligated to present the grand jury with evidence tending to refute, as well as establish guilt.” He is presenting himself as an expert in law; however, he is blatantly false in his statement. Therefore, he is either ignorant of the Grand Jury process or is purposely trying to mislead his audience.
    Mr Ignell goes on to say that this is corruption and by judges and lawyers which goes back to his bias at the beginning of the article. There was never any reason to go after Mr. Jack. He was a well liked individual in the community. It was only when he made a horrible choice that he was prosecuted.
    Mr. Ignell goes on to talk particulars stating that a key witness, Bob Barton, was never interviewed. He says Mr Barton was “a decorated former military pilot who served our country for 25 years.” I’m not sure why he didn’t mention that Mr Barton was also the family’s pastor of the church they attended.
    He cherry picks some of what Mr Barton wrote in a statement showing only that Mr Barton did not believe this occurred. But someone’s belief is not a fact and is not good evidence to prove or disprove something occurred or not.
    Why didn’t Mr. Ignell talk about Mr. Jack’s wife testifying that one night Mr. Jack was snuggling the minor children and she came up to snuggle him only to find that he was fully erect? What kind of grown man snuggles children while erect? I know, do you?
    Why didn’t Mr. Ignell talk about Ms. Jack divorcing Mr. Jack because of his heinous crime? I know, do you?
    And why are there so many news establishments willing to publish Mr. Ignell’s crappy written article defending a convicted sex offender? I don’t know.
    In short, there was a trial, there was a conviction, there was an appeal and the status remains the same. GUILTY! Not because of any bias by judges or prosecutors or anyone else but because the facts led to Mr. Jack committing a horrible crime.
    So in the end anyone who publishes this crap and anyone who defends Mr. Jack had better take a second look in the mirror. Mr. Jack is where he belongs and the community is a safer and better place because of it.

    • David Ignell says:

      Seeker, if it is the truth that you really seek then you will join the Hoonah Tribe and me in asking for a grand jury investigation into Mr. Jack’s wrongful arrest, indictment, and conviction. Katherine Hanlon, the accuser’s great grandmother believed that someone was coaching the young girl to lie. Even the judge admitted the accuser’s story had “numerous inconsistencies”.

      If the prosecutors and the judges have nothing to hide, they would welcome such an investigation.

      Mrs. Jack stood by her husband’s side throughout two trials and several years after. She testified at the first trial that 1) throughout the relevant time period the accuser and her sister slept in the same bed; 2) she and her husband would put the girls to bed and then retire to their bedroom together; 3) after her husband fell asleep she would stay up watching recorded TV shows; and 4) she never saw or suspected any sexually inappropriate behavior between her husband and the accuser.

      If my memory serves me correct, Mrs. Jack didn’t file for divorce until a couple years after his appeals were denied. It was a difficult decision, but she chose not to put her life on hold for the next 30+ years and wait until her mid 70’s to get her husband back.

      Besides the teacher and the social worker, the girl also admitted to a close friend that her allegations were not true and that Mr. Jack had not done anything sexually to her. The close friend said the accuser told a lot of other people the same thing.

      There was a ton of reasonable doubt generated by the consistent testimony of the teacher, the close friend and Mrs. Jack. Unfortunately, these three witnesses were Alaska Native women from a village who weren’t believed by the white Juneau jurors.

      So let’s get down to the truth, shall we Seeker?

      Regarding your legal analysis, applies to federal courts, not state courts. Furthermore, the section you cited doesn’t address the issue of exculpatory evidence. The authoritative case in Alaska state courts on that issue is Frink v. State, 597 P.3d 154 (1979). The opinion was delivered by Chief Justice Bob Boochever a few months before President Carter appointed him to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

      Boochever wrote, “A requirement that the prosecutor present exculpatory evidence to the grand jury is implicit in the mandate of Criminal Rule 6(q). “The grand jury cannot be expected to call for evidence of which it is kept ignorant.” Johnson v. Superior Court, 15 Cal. 3d 248, 251, 539 P.2d 792, 794 (1975). “[T]he vital function [of the grand jury is] protection of the innocent against oppression and unjust prosecution.” State v. Gieffels, 554 P.2d 460, 464 (Alaska 1976). Accord, Burkholder v. State, 491 P.2d 754, 757 (Alaska 1971); State v. Shelton, 368 P.2d 817, 819 (Alaska 1962). The grand jury cannot fulfill this function unless it hears evidence tending to refute, as well as establish, guilt. It is the prosecutor who mainly presents evidence to the grand jury,[18] and if the prosecutor does not present exculpatory evidence to the grand jury, it probably will not hear such evidence.”

      Seeker, the legal authority you claimed I was “blatantly” false about is underlined in the paragraph above.

      One final note about Boochever, who lived up a few houses up the street from me in Juneau. He was a man of integrity who believed in fairness. The Juneau prosecutors never would have gotten away with their antics in Mr. Jack’s case had he been on the bench.