Sivak’s sentence is life in prison for murder of a Garden City gas station clerk

The decades that have passed since trial complicated the effort at a fifth sentencing.

jsowell@idahostatesman.comAugust 29, 2013 

Lacey Sivak sat motionless at the defense table Wednesday as he was sentenced for the fifth time for the brutal 1981 murder of a Garden City gas station clerk.

Each of the first four times, the 54-year-old Boise man was given the death penalty. And each time, the sentence was overturned on appeal.

The death penalty was off the table this time around, with prosecutors deciding to pursue the same sentence handed to co-defendant Randall Bainbridge at his 1981 trial.

This week’s hearing proved an unusual exercise. Ada County Fourth District Judge Ron Wilper sought to avoid any mistakes similar to those that voided Sivak’s previous punishments.

Attorneys on both sides had to work out how to re-establish the facts of a three-decade-old case without all of the original witnesses — some have died, while others were not available.

Wilper read the entire transcript of the original trial ahead of the sentencing hearing.

The defense read into the record transcripts of testimony by several witnesses from previous trial and sentencing hearings. The witnesses, most of whom were members of the same Lutheran congregation as Sivak, testified that Sivak was honest, reliable and nonviolent.

The prosecution used former Ada County Coroner Mike Johnson to elicit information about Dixie Wilson’s death that previously had been supplied by an emergency room doctor. That doctor died a few months ago.

Wilper denied at least two requests on the grounds that they could risk another appeal. On Monday, he said he would not allow testimony from Bainbridge’s trial to be used, especially after the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals deemed the statements “inherently unreliable.” On Tuesday, Wilper said prosecutors would not be able to guide Wilson’s family members through a series of victim impact statements — allowed by court rules but not usually treated as testimony or open to cross-examination.

“I want to make sure this is done for the last time,” Wilper said Tuesday. “I don’t want to make the person who succeeds me to have to go through this again because I made a legal error.”

By seeking life in prison rather than the death penalty, prosecutors were able to avoid having to essentially retry the guilt phase of the trial. If the death penalty had been an option, the case would have required a jury to hear further evidence on Sivak’s guilt and why a death sentence was merited.

Without the death penalty, the case was assigned to Wilper — not the original judge on the case — to pronounce sentence.

The original trial and four subsequent resentencings have taken a toll on Wilson’s family, who said Wednesday that they are happy with Sivak’s new sentence.

“I don’t know what to say. I’m glad it’s over,” said Harry Wilson, Dixie’s husband.

THE SENTENCE

While handing down the sentence, Wilper said there would be a great risk of Sivak committing new crimes if he were to be released.

“Any lesser sentence will depreciate the seriousness of this crime,” Wilper said Wednesday.

For his part, Sivak again denied killing Wilson during a 2 1/2-hour address to the judge.

“I didn’t like her personally, but that doesn’t mean I meant her any harm,” Sivak said.

He maintained, as he did at his 1981 trial, that Bainbridge pulled the trigger and fired the shots that killed Wilson. He said he accompanied Bainbridge that morning to help him replace a starter in his car. They went inside the Chinden Boulevard gas station, where Sivak had been fired a few months earlier for stealing money.

“That’s when he pulled out the gun and did the crime,” Sivak said. “I had no idea the crime was going to take place.”

He said that he feared being killed by Bainbridge, and that Bainbridge’s brothers would retaliate against Sivak’s mother and sister. That fear, he said, also led him to lie in 1981, when he told jurors that he stole the handgun used in the crime from a hardware store where his mom worked.

“I’ve never taken a life and I didn’t feel I could do anything or I would have been dead, too,” Sivak said.

Defense attorneys Robert Chastain, Elisa Massoth and Deborah Kristal had asked for an indeterminate sentence for Sivak that would open up the possibility of parole. All three attorneys declined comment after the sentencing, as did Marion Sivak, Sivak’s mother.

Roger Bourne, chief deputy prosecutor for Ada County, said he was satisfied.

“The evidence was clear that a fixed life sentence was necessary to protect the community,” said Bourne, who handled the case with Deputy Prosecutor Jon Medema.

Wilper praised both sets of attorneys for their time and effort.

THE MURDER

With Sivak moved off death row, that leaves 12 Idaho murderers who are sentenced to death. Sivak spent the longest time among those inmates.

The oldest death-row conviction now is that of Gene Stewart, who beat a 3-year-old boy to death and was sentenced to death in December 1982.

Thomas Creech went to death row in January 1983. He was serving two life sentences for two 1981 Valley County murders when he beat a fellow inmate to death with a sock that was filled with batteries.

Sivak’s victim was killed on April 6, 1981, during a robbery of the Baird Oil gas station at 37th Street and Chinden. Bourne said Sivak and Bainbridge planned to intercept a courier bringing cash and checks from other company stations.

Sivak also held a grudge against Wilson, whom he blamed for having him fired. Sivak had been accused of stealing money from the station, but he blamed Wilson for altering records to create the shortage. The shortages continued even after Wilson no longer had access to the station’s safe, Bourne said.

Wilson was shot five times and stabbed 20 times. Customers found her crumpled on the floor in a pool of blood, gasping for air. She died the same day at Saint Alphonsus Regional Medical Center.

John Sowell: 377-6423, Twitter: @IDS_Sowell

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