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Sunshine Theater Killer Gets Life

By Chris Vogel
Journal Staff Writer
    No one will ever have to fear Dominic Akers again.
    The six-foot, 300-plus-pound man pleaded guilty Thursday to murdering 16-year-old Marissa Mathy-Zvaifler last summer at Downtown's Sunshine Theater, then returning the next day to hide her body.
    "Mr. Akers has been held accountable and has given up any hope of living his life except from behind bars," District Attorney Kari Brandenburg said. "No one will ever have to fear Dominic Akers again."
    District Court Judge Albert "Pat" Murdoch gave Akers a life sentence plus 37 years behind bars.
    Akers' sentence includes 33 years for violating his probation at the time of the murder. In 2002, he was sentenced to probation in lieu of 33 years in jail for sexually abusing a 4-year-old family member.
    On July 16, Mathy-Zvaifler and some friends took a limousine from their hometown of Santa Fe to see a hip-hop concert at the Sunshine Theater.
    "On the morning of July 16, Marissa was so full of excitement and zeal," said her mother, Erica Zvaifler, while fighting back a wave of tears in front of a courtroom packed with her daughter's friends. "Then, life as we knew it ceased to be with Marissa's last strangled breath. I miss her terribly."
    During the show, Mathy-Zvaifler approached Akers, a janitor, about meeting the band.
    Akers later told police that he was with her in the theater's third-floor projection area when he "flipped out" and choked Mathy-Zvaifler until she was unconscious, court records said. When she awoke and started to scream, Akers strangled her again until she was dead, records said. The next morning, Akers returned and moved her body to a storage area, which he blocked with a soda machine, records said. Her body was found several days later.
    Charges that Akers forced her to perform a sex act were dismissed as part of the plea agreement.
    For the first time since his July arrest, Akers spoke in court.
    "I'm sorry," he mumbled, fidgeting with his hands behind his back. "I never meant to destroy anyone's life. I never meant to hurt anybody."
    Frank Akers, Akers' father, said his prayers go out to Mathy-Zvaifler's family.
    "There's a lot more to my son than what the world has seen," he said.
    After the hearing, prosecutor Gerald Byers said, "It didn't matter what (Akers) had to say. If you'd seen the crime scene, you'd know what I mean."
    Chelsey Stephens, 17, Mathy-Zvaifler's classmate at Santa Fe High, was at the concert with her best friend the night she was killed.
    "Now I fear men, and I fear I'll be killed if I don't watch everything I do," she said. "Knowing he will be in jail the rest of his life rotting and slowly dying gives me some hope."
    Akers, 22, won't be eligible for release from prison until he is in his 80s. He will have to serve at least 30 years on the life sentence, an additional four years for tampering with evidence and being found a habitual offender and at least 26 years of the sentence for violating his probation, according to the plea agreement.
    In 2002, Akers pleaded guilty to three counts of criminal sexual penetration and other sex crimes. He was sentenced to 33 years in prison, but the prison time was suspended and he was put on 5 years' probation. The judge said the fact that Akers is illiterate and has a low I.Q., along with the recommendation of psychologists, factored into his decision not to put Akers in prison.
    Brandenburg said her office and Gov. Bill Richardson are trying to incarcerate Akers in a special facility in Minnesota.
    After the sentencing, Erica Zvaifler said, "There should be no second chance for rapists."
    Mathy-Zvaifler's killing led to tougher city and state sex-offender laws.
    In the fall, state lawmakers approved "Marissa's Law," which provides for tougher penalties, increased supervision of convicted sex offenders, and a sex-offender management board to identify and track sex offenders.
    Last August, Albuquerque's City Council approved an ordinance requiring convicted sex offenders to disclose the conditions of their probation to employers, something Akers did not do. Also, adults convicted of a sex offense as far back as 1970 must now register with the police.
    Mathy-Zvaifler's friends along with students at the College of Santa Fe plan in May to air a documentary they are making about their friend's life. It is an educational piece promoting awareness in hopes of preventing further assaults.
    "I know sometimes survivors talk about putting things behind them and we'll try to do that," Erica Zvaifler said, "but I also believe it's important to remember every day, and the joy and happiness she brought to everyone."