The family of an Eagle River woman, murdered in September 2014, will have to wait a little longer for justice. Wednesday, Anchorage Superior Court Judge Kevin Saxby rejected a plea deal which would have ended the already lengthy case.
David Thomas has admitted to strangling his girlfriend, 19-year-old Linda Bower. In the deal, he agreed to plead guilty to second-degree murder in exchange for a sentence which would have made him eligible for parole in 14 years.
In emotional testimony, Bower’s parents asked Saxby to reject the deal, saying it was not justice for their daughter.
“All I have left of Linda Ann are memories and hopeless dreams,” said her father, Lonny Bower. “My hope is that there will be justice, but that, too, seems hopeless, as it’s been 31 months since Linda was taken.”
Lonny Bower said despite the time since her death, his pain and anger are still fresh. The plea deal only fuels those feelings. He said the family didn’t realize how soon Thomas would be eligible for parole when they first agreed to the deal.
“Anything less than life in prison for the defendant is not justice,” he said.
Linda Bower’s mother, Sherry Miller, echoed those feelings, pleading with the judge to reject the deal. She said beyond seeking justice for her daughter, she sees locking up Thomas as the only way to protect the community from further violence.
“I saw the bruises on her face and her ear and her neck and my tears couldn’t wipe them away,” sobbed Miller during her testimony.
The state prosecutor and the defense both supported the plea deal, arguing it saves the time and expense of a trial and because they see Thomas as a good candidate for rehabilitation.
The Bower family vehemently disagreed, citing Thomas’ history. He served time in a Montana prison for domestic violence and attacking a police officer who responded to the call. He was released on parole and got off probation early for good behavior. After moving to Alaska, Thomas met Linda Bower, started using drugs and alcohol and then killed her in what he described as an “explosion” of self-loathing.
“I know it means little, but still, from the bottom of my broken heart, I am so insanely sorry for robbing you of Linda’s presence,” he said to the family in a prepared statement.
After listening to testimony, Judge Saxby decided to reject the plea deal. He echoed concerns for the safety of the community if Thomas was released too early, saying he thought Thomas’s prospects for rehabilitation were “dim”.
“The possibility of parole within 16 years of the crime, or 14 years from today, in essence cheapens the crime,” said Saxby.
His decision means the case goes back to square one. It’s like Thomas’s guilty plea never happened. The state prosecutor also has the option of bringing back a first-degree murder charge, dropped for the plea deal. And it means Linda Bower’s family faces a full trial, something they say they are willing to sit through if it means they don’t have to worry about Thomas getting out on parole for at least 25 years.
Despite Thomas’ apology, Lonny says he’s not done seeking justice for his daughter, nor is he ready to forgive her killer.
“He’s a manipulator and he’s a con artist and his apology was worthless,” said Lonny. “I hope he chokes on his words in his sleep tonight.”