Murdered woman’s family speaks against plea deal; sentencing continuned until next week
More than two and a half years after the murder of Eagle River teenager Linda Anne Martz Bower, grieving friends and family members packed an Anchorage courtroom to urge a judge to reject a plea deal for the man who strangled her.
“We would rather take the chances of a trial,” said Sheila Benjamin, Bower’s aunt, tearfully addressing Judge Kevin Saxby inside the Nesbitt Courthouse Thursday afternoon.
The sentencing hearing was the latest step in the case against Bower’s ex-boyfriend, 30-year-old David Joseph Thomas, who’s been in custody since Bower’s body was discovered in the back of his car in September 2014. In December, he pleaded guilty to a charge of second-degree murder.
If accepted, his plea agreement would carry a sentence of 50 years behind bars. He would be eligible for parole after serving nearly 17 years in prison; he’s been incarcerated since 2014.
While family members vehemently opposed the agreement, both prosecuting and defense attorneys asked the judge to accept the deal. It would prevent a lengthy, uncertain trial, said public defender Michael Schwaiger.
“It’s not going to be enough for Ms. Bower’s friends and family – nothing ever will be – but it’s at least going to be the last page of this terrible, terrible chapter,” Schwaiger said.
Attorneys said Thomas killed Bower in a drunken haze after they broke up in September 2014. He was originally charged with first-degree murder, but the facts of the case could make it difficult to prove intent, according to Assistant District Attorney Christina Sherman.
Sherman said the proposed sentence falls well within state guidelines for a second-degree murder charge, which carries a presumptive range of 10-99 years. But to family members who filled the court gallery Thursday afternoon, it isn’t nearly enough.
“The punishment should fit the crime,” said Leila McEwen, Bower’s aunt. “A life was taken; a life should be given.”
The sentencing hearing, which lasted for more than two hours, included poignant testimony from more than half a dozen family members who described Bower as a witty, bright, vivacious animal lover. They described the devastating impact of her murder – as earth-shattering as a high-speed collision or an unprotected fall from an airplane.
“There is no sentence that’s going to lessen that impact,” Sherman said. “This sentence does provide a finality.”
Bower’s family members disagreed. The sentence imposed by the plea agreement would force them to relive the horror of her murder whenever Thomas became eligible for parole, said her stepfather, Bradley Miller.
“Within our civilized society in the State of Alaska, we do not have a system in place to bring death upon Mr. Thomas, but there are other ways with which we can ensure a life for a life,” Miller said to Saxby. “She was 19 years old, your honor. Please consider that.”
In an emotional appeal, Miller expressed his frustration with the state’s legal system — the seemingly endless hearings and procedural confusion. Not until after the plea agreement was reached did the family learn they had the right to address the court, they said. While the U.S. Constitution guarantees defendants the right to a speedy trial, Miller said, “there is nothing fair or speedy about this.”
But after more than two hours, Thursday’s hearing ran out the clock with no resolution. It’s scheduled to continue April 20 at 10 a.m.