Werder held girl prisoner and terrorized family
Derek Werder was sentenced to 219 years in prison Monday after his June conviction of 28 felony sex abuse charges and six assault charges.
Judge Eric Smith, who also presided over the Werder trial, was obligated by law to sentence Werder to a minimum 119 years in prison but felt a heftier sentence was merited due to the seriousness of the crimes and to reflect a message of community condemnation of the crimes.
Werder was accused in August 2011 of numerous counts of sexual abuse involving underage victims, including a victim he held prisoner in his home and continued to abuse after adulthood.
“This was the worst,” Smith said when handing out the lengthy sentence. “I never sat through a trial like this.”
This after 16 years as a judge on the Palmer Superior Court.
By law, the 41-year old Werder must serve 150 of those years before he will be eligible for parole, which effectively makes his punishment a life sentence.
Werder’s attorney, Nikki Swayne, had filed several motions with the court prior to sentencing, hoping to argue a lighter sentence for her client. Swayne told the court that Werder was an exceptional candidate for rehabilitation and posed no threat to the community due to the fact his sex crimes and assaults against his family were opportunistic rather than predatory. She asked the court to consider a sentence of 25 years maximum, with 10 to 15 years suspended, with an opportunity for parole. Swayne also claimed it would be a waste of taxpayer dollars to pay for Werder’s lifetime incarceration and a longer sentence would be cruel and unusual punishment.
“Mr. Werder is not of a predatory nature,” Swayne told the court before Smith handed down his sentence. “He’s not a typical sex offender.”
The judge dismissed the attorney’s claims, and called the crimes heinous and perverse.
“The only thing cruel and unusual is what the victim’s had to go through” for over a decade Smith said.
Werder sat in the defendant’s seat with his head bowed and eyes shut as if he were dozing through much of the hearing. He also waived his right to address the court.
Melissa Howard, the assistant district attorney who prosecuted Werder during the jury trial, asked the judge to impose the maximum sentences allowed by law.
“He is a worst offender,” Howard said, noting a large number of abuse charges were not filed despite ample evidence of further abuse crimes outside the 35 charges Werder was convicted of committing. “The court’s right, there could have been a lot more charges.”
Teresa Felts from Advocates of Victims of Violence, read the the victim’s impact statement to the court.
“I spent 22 years living with a monster,” Felts said on behalf of the main victim, who had been pulled out of school in the sixth grade and held a virtual prisoner by Werder, who went so far as to install a video camera on the victim’s bed to make sure she obeyed orders when left alone. As a young girl, saddled with the duties of a wife, the victim lamented a childhood lost. “I was completely isolated from everyone and everything.”
Depression, trust issues and other ailments have continued to plague the victim.
“This monster should not see the light of day again,” the letter said.
The judge agreed.
“The crime in this case is horrific,” he said earlier in the hearing, adding it would not be “manifestly unjust” to ensure Werder stays behind bars for the rest of his natural life.
Valdez Police Chief Bill Comer said he believes the 219 sentence is the longest prison sentence ever imposed by the Valdez court.
“I think it was appropriate and I’m glad to see it,” Comer said in a telephonic interview Tuesday morning.
Werder’s ongoing crimes came under the radar of law enforcement after a July 2011 encounter with Alaska State Troopers at a campground near Ninilchik. Troopers were called to the scene to investigate a report of a domestic assault and found the main victim had been beaten, though initially it was claimed the facial injuries were caused by an accident with a four-wheeler.
Valdez police began investigating Werder in Valdez, uncovering a house of horrors.
While Comer said he is proud of the work his department did over the course of the investigation, he also lauded troopers and district attorney’s office.
“It was an exemplary effort all around,” he said, while not forgetting the purpose of the investigation, arrest and trial of Werder. “It’s more about the victim’s and liberating them.”
Last June, members of the jury were offered free counseling by the court due to the graphic nature of the evidence and testimony given during the trial.L