Summerall sentenced to 20 years

In this June 2009 photo Chawn D. Summerall appears for his arraignment at the Kodiak Courthouse. (Derek Clarkston photo)

Citing a history of criminal assault convictions and disrespectful and callous acts toward the victim, Judge Fred Torrisi sentenced Chawn D. Summerall, 31, to 20 years in prison with nine years suspended in the death of Darrell Cavaness in January of 2008.

In December, a jury convicted Summerall of first degree assault in the case, but also dismissed a second degree murder charge.

Evidence presented at the trial showed that Summerall and another defendant, Joshua R. Erickson, were the only two people present when the injuries to Cavaness occurred that led to his death in an Anchorage hospital a week later.

Erickson is charged with the same counts of second degree murder and first degree assault. A hearing in his trial is scheduled for May 20.

At Summerall’s sentencing, prosecuting attorney June Stein told how Cavaness’ history made him a particularly vulnerable victim.

After a head injury in a motor vehicle accident, Cavaness had to learn how to walk and talk again. That accident left a lasting speech condition, making him sound intoxicated. A former fisherman, the 41-year-old Cavaness also had multiple sclerosis.

“It was Darrell’s birthday and he was going to celebrate it with the only people he seemed to know well in Kodiak,” Stein said. “And they killed him.”

Stein reviewed evidence presented at the trial that a piece of furniture with Cavaness’ blood on it also was found to have Summerall’s DNA.

Police were called multiple times to a residence on Natalia Way the night Cavaness died, finding him bleeding from head wounds the final time they arrived.

“Darrell suffered multiple injuries from a variety of assaultive acts,” Stein said.

A witness at the trial testified that Summerall shoved food down Cavaness’ pants and placed an ash tray on his shoulder as he lay unconscious and bleeding, a fact that Stein said showed total contempt and indifference to human life.

Summerall spoke in his own defense at the sentencing, maintaining his innocence and denying he either assaulted Cavaness, or saw Cavaness being assaulted.

“Mrs. Cavaness, I am truly sorry for your loss,” Summerall read from a prepared statement. “Even though I have been convicted of assault in the first degree, I never assaulted your son. I pray every day for you and your family’s grieving hearts. It is hard to sit in prison when I never hit Darrell.”

Summerall asked the court for a sentence of 60 months with 30 months suspended. He also repeated his intention to appeal his assault conviction.

“I am innocent,” he said.

In reaching the sentence, Torrisi discounted defense attorney Marcelle McDannel’s mitigating claim that Summerall played only a minor part in the incident. However, he upheld aggravating facts of Summerall’s criminal history, including three DUIs, one of which is a felony, along with misdemeanor drug charges and two previous assaults.

McDannel, in arguing for a more lenient sentence, said if anyone actually looked at Summerall’s criminal history and the incidents behind it, they would see that he is not an innately violent person.

“Mr. Summerall has a drinking problem that causes problems for the community and for himself,” McDannel said. “He needs to address that, but he doesn’t need to be isolated as a violent offender.”

Family members were present through teleconference but declined to speak during the sentencing, instead referring to letters submitted for the court record.

The victim’s mother wrote in her impact letter that the death of her son has left a gaping hole in the hearts of his family and friends. She described her son as a man with a beautiful smile and dancing blue eyes, a quick wit and a friend the defendant could have had for a lifetime.

Mirror writer Wes Hanna can be reached via email at

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