Superior Court Judge Nathaniel Peters sentenced 34-year-old Joseph Yaska on Nov. 10, 2022, to 50 years to serve for firing an AK-47 at multiple people and killing Bruce “Gotor” Morgan, while under the influence of alcohol.
Yaska was given a composite sentence of 75 years with 25 years suspended and 50 years to serve for murder in the second degree and assault in the first degree.
Yaska previously pled guilty to the charges and admitted to the facts surrounding the incident that occurred on the morning of Aug. 27, 2017. Yaska returned home in Aniak from a social gathering at which he had been drinking. He assaulted his girlfriend, Jessica Lee, and her friend Ashley Morgan. He then grabbed an AK-47 and threatened to shoot Lee and told her to run. Yaska shot Lee twice as she ran away. He also pointed the gun at Tierre Wolf and shot into the home of Charlene Morgan, where three adults and two children huddled in a corner for safety. Finally, he turned the firearm on Bruce “Gotor” Morgan who was sitting inside a truck outside of the home. He shot Mr. Morgan multiple times, killing him, after telling another community member “I’m going to kill people.”
Members of the community participated in the hearing, including in the courtroom in Bethel, as well as from the courtroom in Aniak. During the sentencing proceedings, members of Morgan’s family spoke to the court. Morgan’s parents, Okalena and Bruce Morgan, talked to the court about the impact the loss of their son has had on their family, their community, and especially their grandson.
“Telling a three-year-old child that he will never get to see his dad is the hardest thing a grandmother will ever do,” the couple stated. They talked to the court about how their grandson will never get to hunt with his father or have him involved in his sports, school, and all aspects of his life.
Wayne and Martha Morgan told the court that “Today is not the end for us, this is something we have to live with…Bruce “Gotor” Morgan deserves justice today. He had no chance to even see who was doing this to him or what happened to him. The horror is thinking of him during his last moment with no one to help him, alone. That thought will stick with us forever.”
Barbara Morgan told the judge about who Mr. Morgan was, stating “he was a big part of our lives, every one of us. His personality, his way of life, hunting with friends and family and he made sure everyone has something to eat or give, he was a big part of Aniak.”
Jessica Lee told the court that “I get by for my kids. It’s going to forever change our lives, what happened.”
Members of Mr. Yaska’s family submitted letters to the court and spoke on his behalf. They expressed sorrow and remorse for the Morgan family and expressed support for him. Yaska stated, “The fact is that I caused a lot of pain and it burdens me heavily. My friend who I grew up with was an amazing person and a great father. My friend who I have shared many memories with, my friend Bruce is gone, and I am responsible. It hurts to know that I won’t be able to be there for my family and my children when they need me, but it hurts more to know that he can’t be there for his family and son when they need him.”
He apologized to the Morgan family and Ms. Lee for his actions and asked for forgiveness.
In seeking a significant sentence, the State argued that Yaska’s actions were senseless acts of violence that forever changed the lives of the Morgan family, Ms. Lee, and the community of Aniak. In handing down the sentence, Judge Peters noted the serious nature of Yaska’s offenses finding the conduct more egregious than a typical murder in the second degree. Judge Peters referred to Mr. Yaska’s actions as “unacceptable, uncalled for, and that they had destroyed many, many lives.”
The case was prosecuted by Assistant Attorney General Bailey Woolfstead.