ANCHORAGE, Alaska -- An Anchorage judge refused Friday to sentence gynecologist Kenneth Ake to the required eight years for rape, concluding that Ake deserved leniency because he is an excellent candidate for rehabilitation.
Superior Court Judge Joan Katz instead referred the case to a special three-judge panel with a recommendation that Ake, who was convicted in June of raping five women and fondling another, be sentenced to six years instead.
Under that sentence, Ake could be freed after spending only four years in prison unless he misbehaved and lost some of his mandatory one-third "good time."
In a bargain with prosecutors, the prominent Anchorage gynecologist pleaded guilty to one count of first-degree sexual assault and one count of second-degree assault, but sentencing was not part of the deal.
Ake, bowing his head and sobbing, asked the court Friday to "give me a chance to get better. I don't want to hurt anybody anymore."
But after Friday's decision, a woman identified as R. T. said that Ake also shed tears in 1987 as he stood with other elders of the Anchorage Bible Fellowship and denied that he had raped her.
"I confronted him face to face," said R. T., now a teacher living in another state. Along with other victims assaulted in Ake's examining room during pelvic examinations, she requested anonymity.
She and other victims don't believe Ake's tears now because he so successfully exploited his status as "a doctor, a Christian, a man" in raping them and in manipulating others to believe he did nothing to them, she said.
"Because of this three-judge panel, I can't leave and put this to rest," she said. "I am still angry. I probably always will be angry. One day I might be able to forgive, but I will never be able to forget."
Assistant Attorney General Valerie VanBrocklin stood in a circle of Ake victims after the hearing, reassuring them that their cries for vengeance may yet be heard.
"The state and the trial court have a different view of what justice is, of what a just sentence is in this case," Ms. VanBrocklin said.
Ms. VanBrocklin said the three-judge panel was not bound by Judge Katz's conclusions and could imprison Ake from zero to 40 years, although either extreme is unlikely.
"The last chapter hasn't been written yet," she said.
Ake's attorney, Jim McComas, praised Judge Katz's decision as "showing a true loyalty to the principles of justice."
Mr. McComas said Judge Katz had a "heavy responsibility" to be fair because "the cries for an improper sentence are so loud."
In a lengthy explanation, Judge Katz said Ake's crimes were particularly serious because he exploited and hurt so many women. The judge said she intended to send a message to other victims that "the justice system will support them."
But for Judge Katz, the central issue was whether Ake would be a good candidate for rehabilitation.
She said the doctor had shown remorse and probably was not a risk to the community. She cited his widespread support from his family and church and said his intelligence and history of high achievement suggested that he is capable of successfully returning to the community.
Psychologists who interviewed Ake and testified for him said he became a gynecologist in part to satisfy a voyeuristic craving and is unlikely to commit further assaults outside the setting of an examining room.
His license was suspended in February after he admitted having had sex with some of his patients.
But Ms. VanBrocklin, seeking a long sentence, dismissed the "Ouija board predictions" of Ake's expert witnesses.
Reciting a litany of sexual assaults and lies going back to 1986, the prosecutor asked Judge Katz, "What does it take to leave a question in this court's mind?"
Ake's victims said sending the case to the panel of judges was an injustice.
"I was looking for release," said K. B., who was 12 weeks pregnant and bleeding vaginally when she became Ake's latest victim about a year ago. "I wanted it to end."