Judge accepts Eagle River murder plea deal with ‘trepidation’
A judge has approved a contentious plea deal in a man’s 2014 Eagle River murder of his girlfriend, nearly a year after turning down a previous version at the request of the victim’s parents.
David Thomas was sentenced Friday to 75 years in prison, with 25 suspended, by Superior Court Judge Kevin Saxby in the death of 19-year-old Linda Bower.
Thomas had pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in the case, but Saxby threw out a plea agreement in April 2017 after Lonny Bower and Sherry Miller spoke against the deal, saying anything less than a life sentence in their daughter’s death “is not justice.”
The defendant had previously told police he didn’t remember putting his hands on Linda Bower’s throat, but he woke up next to her body on Sept. 11, 2014. He then drove away with her body in his brother’s vehicle, eventually turning himself in to investigators.
After Judge Saxby's rejection, Thomas' attorney filed an appeal. An appellate court ruled Saxby had to take another look at the agreement.
On Friday, Bower's parents once again asked Judge Saxby to reject the state's plea deal with Thomas.
"Place yourself in my shoes when you go to the cemetery and watch as they lower your daughter into the cold ground," said mother Sherry Miller, her voice rising to a shout. "Place yourself in my shoes when you sit before the DA, when they tell you, 'This is what's best for the state.'"
Miller said Thomas would be eligible for parole after serving a third of his sentence; accounting for his time already served, that's about 13 years. Miller said she didn't think she could bear the pain of going to trial and seeing the evidence of her daughter's murder, but feels state prosecutors should have pushed for more time.
"My family and I have experienced firsthand that justice in this state holds little to no regard for the victims and their family, but for the welfare of a cold-blooded killer," Miller told the judge.
Emotions ran high as Bower's family members pleaded with the judge for justice.
"Go back to your cell and hang yourself, do the world a favor," father Lonny Bower told Thomas.
Bower's stepfather, Brad Miller, told Thomas the safest place for him to be was in jail: "He took our daughter's life. He should have no hope or eligibility for any life outside of prison."
Christina Sherman with the Anchorage district attorney's office said the state believed 50 years was an appropriate sentence.
"The state has been and remains ready to try this case, should the court reject the agreement," Sherman told Saxby.
Thomas told the judge he had "no desire" for a life outside prison, but said he would like an explanation as to why 50 years wasn't enough.
"Please explain to me and the community why it's not enough when considering my sorrow and acceptance of accountability," Thomas said.
In response, Saxby told Thomas he thought there was only a slim chance he could be rehabilitated. He cited Thomas' previous crimes, including a felony conviction in Montana for assaulting a police officer who was responding to a domestic-violence call in which Thomas had assaulted another girlfriend.
Saxby also said he felt Thomas manipulated previous parole officers by complying with his terms of release, only to then commit murder.
"He appears adept at appearing to do well and saying and doing the right things, without actually making the changes inside that have to be made," Saxby said.
He accepted the plea deal but added terms of parole requiring Thomas to tell any romantic partner that he's a convicted murder, and to notify his parole officer if he begins a relationship.
Bower's family appeared visibly upset in court. Sherry Miller clutched a picture of Bower in her hands and wiped away tears.
"He's a danger to society and he's going to be walking our streets. Our women and children are just not safe and I tried so hard for a longer sentence," she cried after the hearing. "I'm just extremely disappointed that the State of Alaska cares more about his well-being and his rehabilitation than (him) taking the life of my daughter."
Saxby put his comments into the case record to be reviewed by Thomas’s parole board. The Bower family believes Thomas may become eligible for parole in less than 14 years. Under Senate Bill 91, if he's initially denied parole when he's eligible, he'll automatically have a review hearing every two years for the remainder of his sentence.
"Which means we have to revisit this crime, we have to open these wounds every two years," Brad Miller said.
Heather Hintze contributed information to this story.
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